Form-Based Zoning

The Planning Department is working with a consulting team to develop a "form-based" zoning ordinance as an alternative to the zoning regulations that currently apply in the City's historic downtown area. The goal of this project is to protect the heritage of the City's built environment by providing appropriate development standards for future infill and redevelopment projects. Compared to conventional zoning, form-based zoning creates "Character-Based Zoning Districts" which focus less on specific land uses, and instead emphasize building placement, scale and design. The project will address issues that affect the form and character of the downtown, including building height, volume, scale, massing and architectural design.

The project is being funded in part by a Community Planning Grant provided by New Hampshire Housing. Work on the project began in February 2013 and is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Click on the tabs below for more information and check back often for project updates.

  • Public Process
  • Scope
  • Project Schedule
  • Documents
  • Meeting Videos

The Form-Based Zoning project began in early 2013 with a detailed survey of all lots and buildings within the 80-acre study area in order to identify the essential physical elements that define the unique character of each block and street in the historic downtown. This was followed in June 2013 with an intensive 5-day public design workshop ("charrette") in which more than 300 residents, property owners and public officials participated. Several drafts of the proposed zoning ordinance were developed during the summer and fall, and were reviewed by City staff and the Planning Board.

This year-long planning effort resulted in a draft "Character-Based Zoning" ordinance which was presented to the City Council for first reading on November 18, 2013.  At that time, the City Council voted to postpone consideration of the proposed Character-Based Zoning ordinance until January 2014. The City Council felt that additional time was needed for residents and property owners to review and evaluate the proposed ordinance changes, and also that it would be appropriate to let the new City Council members participate in this process.

At its meeting on January 13th, the City Council voted to schedule a new first reading on the Character-Based Zoning ordinance for March 3rd, with a public hearing to be held on March 17th.

In order to assist in this process, the Planning Department has scheduled an informational workshop on Wednesday, January 29th at the Levenson Room at the Portsmouth Public Library. The workshop will be divided into two sessions.  The first session will run from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. and the Planning Department staff will host an open drop-in session during which residents will be able to review the proposed zoning districts and standards and ask questions in an informal setting. At this session, staff will display the maps, tables and images that are at the core of the proposed zoning amendments.  The second workshop session will start at 7:00 p.m. with a formal presentation describing the proposed Character-Based Zoning standards, followed by a question and answer session.

The public is invited to attend and participate in either or both of the January 29th workshop sessions. There will also be opportunities for additional follow-up comments and questions after the workshop. The Planning Board will discuss the feedback from the workshop and other comments at its meeting on February 20th, in order to provide an updated report to the City Council prior to the March 3rd first reading.

The proposed zoning ordinance and additional information about the project are posted on the Planning Department's website at  If anyone has a particular question or comment on the project or the draft Form-Based Zoning Ordinance, they should feel free to contact the Principal Planner, Nicholas Cracknell in the Planning Department at

The City has contracted with Town Planning and Urban Design Collaborative (TPUDC) to assist planning staff in carrying out this project.  TPUDC has extensive experience with form-based zoning regulations, and has worked in other New Hampshire communities on projects of similar scale.
The scope of work for the project includes:
  1. a comprehensive inventory of the existing buildings and streetscapes in the project area;
  2. a public process including a multi-day design charrette (workshop) in June;
  3. a proposed form-based zoning ordinance for presentation to the Planning Board and City Council.
In order to reach a successful outcome that reflects broad community consensus, the project incorporates a public participation process that is designed to generate interest, raise awareness and educate the public and City leaders about form-based zoning, and engage a broad segment of the community.  For more information about public meetings, go to the Schedule tab.

Past Meetings

  • January 29th, 2014: Form Based Zoning Work Shop, Levenson Room, Library (3:00 p.m. - 5 :00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.) See "Public Process" Tab above for more information
  • February 20th, 2014: Public Meeting – Planning Board
  • May 2, 2013: Project Kick-Off Meeting
  • June 6 -10, 2013: Multi-Day Charrette (see the Public Process tab for more information)
  • September 2013: Discussion draft of Form-Based Zoning Ordinance (see Documents tab for more information)
  • October 2013: Revised draft Ordinance, start of approval and public hearing process
  • December 2013: Final adoption of Form-Based Zoning Ordinance
  • March 3rd, 2014: 1st Reading City Council
  • March 17th, 2014: Public Hearing – City Council

Planning Board - Form-Based Zoning , February 20, 2014

Form-Based Zoning Workshop, January 29 2014

Plan Portsmouth Public Charrette on Form-Based Zoning for the Downtown

Closing Session June 10, 2013

June 8, 2013

Opening Session June 6, 2013