The Face Lift PCB's Been Waiting For: Form-Based Regulations


Last Thursday, June 4th, the City of Panama City Beach held a joint City Council and Planning Board workshop to discuss potential form-based design regulations that will dramatically affect future Panama City Beach developments. These form-based regulations, negotiated in part by Planning Works, 180 Degree Design and White and Smith Planning, are recommendations intended to provide standards that will create consistency and form between high-rise edifices and the neighborhoods that surround them.

A team of urban planning specialists, headed by Michael Lauer, urban planner Planning Works, helped explain in the 3-day workshop how adopting these new regulations will encourage higher quality future development while maintaining the small town beach lifestyle with an overall more attractive and walkable streetscape for Front Beach Road. These new regulations will also harmonize with future and current CRA developments such as the revamped Richard Jackson Boulevard.

These comprehensive regulations actually broke down into simple decisions for the board to discuss and eventually adopt:

  • Building Height Requirements
    • Based on zoning buildings in residential /low intensity areas will max out at 35ft with a better overall definition of that requirement. Traditional areas will max out at 50ft with an allowance for greater height based on developments to that area. High Rise areas will see a flexible cap of 220ft, with an allowance for more height (with a decrease in footprint) to help promote variety.
  • Moving Buildings Closer to the Street
  • Eliminate Auto Oriented Design
    • Lots of talk on this topic, but essentially parking lots will no longer be allowed on the street side. They will be required to park behind buildings or incorporated into the design of the building in the form of covered parking.
  • Internal Street Standard
  • Require Retail to Be Along the Street-Side

The goal of all this, as said by Michael Lauer, is to “keep the street fronts alive” by promoting more active fronts based on the design codes. An example of “active fronts” would be to see more cafés, pocket parks and urban amenities on the street side rather than parking lots or deep set backs.

On top of the physical incentives, the hopes of the city and the planning organizations are to provide incentive for developers as well with hardship variances and additional administrative variances. Current buildings that can’t or won’t participate in the developments can, under these regulations, do relatively simple façade or cosmetic changes to help coincide with the improvements. But not everything will be an easy fix. City Attorney, Doug Sale, when asked a question about buildings that will lose their parking lots due to these potential regulations, acknowledged the difficulty in transition by answering, “The preferred approach would be shared access to parking in back. But we’ll have to deal with it case by case.”

Still, within the group of attendees, the form-based design regulations were met with rave reviews, even subtle complaints that the city should have done this a decade ago. Even Mayor Gayle Oberst endorsed the sentiment by adding that when past opportunities to move in the direction of such regulations surfaced the council “punted,” Oberst added that these talks have been the “the kick in the pants” the city needed. “I think it’s the future of Panama City Beach,” Oberst said. “It’s not going to be easy, but we can do it. I’m excited about it and [when it’s completed] we’ll all be proud of it.”

So what should Panama City Beach residents expect? Nothing, yet, as these talks will continue to be negotiated until September. But when the time comes, Panama City Beach will have a new look. You’ll see more bike lanes, walkways, outdoor cafés, tropical landscaping, more accessible frontages and better roadways for driving. These regulations, the planners said, should also help attract new investments by increasing square footage available for office, retail or rental units in turn raising economic return on private capital.

The planning groups will begin drafting these new form-based rules, but, for now, all potential developers and those who intend on putting additional monies into renovating old properties will have to consider the likelihood that these regulations will be adopted…and that likelihood is higher than any high-rise on Panama City Beach.

9 thoughts on “The Face Lift PCB's Been Waiting For: Form-Based Regulations

  1. It’s too bad some of these design ideas were’nt set forth years ago. I understand the height-to-footprint ratio concept, due to lack of length along the beachfront, but I feel for the existing businesses just across the street of the beach. Maintaining a “smalltown feel” and incorporating a Miami-style beachfront can’t be easy. Maybe as some older, non-functional buildings are retired, replacement of those spaces with beach-style establishments can help these ideas come to fruition. It’s about time we see considerations for uniform greenery. The palm tree lined sidewalks will be beautiful.

    Some may say, nice ideas, but too late. Not really. Good things come to those who wait. And if I may coin another cliche, it’s better late than never. I am sure there were plenty of naysayers about Pier Park. I think it’s the most beautiful mall layout I’ve seen anywhere. I am looking forward to watching the transition of the hodge podge we have now, to a sleeker, Florida-style PCB.

    For those aging buildings from years past, it doesn’t mean those have a date of expiration set upon them. But hopefully make the owners consider facelifts to harmonize with a new era.


  2. This looks great!

    Did these new regulations include signage restrictions?

    It should not matter what goes on inside someone’s business — that’s their business — but when they advertise “XXX movies” and “get your crabs at dirty dick’s” out on the public streets, they bring down the entire area.


  3. Holy MIA, Lori! How ya been?

    I personally wish this had come about years ago, but better late than never! We still have much growth to look foward to.

    There were plenty of naysayers about Pier Park, but no one can dispute how great its been for our area.


  4. Interestingly enough, there was a very brief discussion on outdoor free-standing signage that drew some exasperated sighs from the board. I believe that that topic will be one of future deliberations as it was avoided quickly.


  5. This So where’s the catch? Where is the part that says before all this can happen, the north/south roads need to be widen so that St. Joe can put in a few more developments?

    The city collects our property tax and diverts the money into creating info structures that benefit St. Joe. Look at Beckridge Road, what a nice road now. Going to look great feeding into the center of St. Joe’s new development.

    How about really doing something on Front Beach Road? Use the CRA money wisely. Get rid of the overhead power lines and telephone polls.


  6. I hadn’t gotten to this article when I replied to the “5 ways” article also from this newsletter, but my comments there referenced the basic idea of revitalizing and updating Front Beach — I had in mind the picture from this article, which I’d seen elsewhere before…

    As I said there – I think this project is one of the most important ways Panama City Beach can raise itself above the cachet of being the “redneck riviera” — not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, but we’re so much more than that.

    Look, our area exists on tourism, military, and agriculture. That’s what we have. I don’t see much in the way of possible growth for the latter two; the area we can increase is tourism. For everyone griping about spring break – what would you replace it with? I think we want to attract wealthy repeat visitors, and one of the most important ways to do that is to transform beach roads just like Beckrich and Churchwell. We need that same treatment done to all the other little “country”-looking roads all the way down the beach. And we need that treatment done on Highway 79 from the airport to Front Beach.

    Once you have that — that goes a long way into keeping your visitors happy, because it increases the feeling of continuity and luxury. When they land on the PCB side of the county, take a taxi or drive their rental down 79 with landscaping, and see all that on the way to their hotel – they’ll already be in a festive mood. When the look of Pier Park and Beckrich and Churchwell and all that is continuous — they’ll feel they’re in paradise – and it will translate into more sales and more money spent for everyone.

    It’s the same reason hotels spend so much to make things look rich and luxurious – people spend more money and they come back more often. So we need the city to tie all that together.


  7. Spending the limited CRA funds on making the north/south roads pretty while doing nothing to Front Beach will not bring tourism dollars into the area. Tourist come for the beach and will spend more time on Front Beach Road than Beckrich and Churchwell combined.

    Let’s face it, be realistic. Beckrich Road leads to heart of St. Joe’s 4000 planed home community. The purpose of improving Beckrich was not to attract tourism dollars, it is to sell homes behind Home Depot.

    And there is nothing wrong with this, just call it what is really is…I would love to see more marketing along the lines of “Panama City Beach, a place where you can live”. I stand behind all of St. Joe’s development, every one of them and the airport too. St. Joe has the ability to transform the area into something more and we are lucky St. Joe is doing it.

    At some point–as in today–I would like to the next bundle of CRA money to be spent on improving Front Beach Road, not the north/south feeder roads. To get to the beach you first go though Front Beach. Look at the pictures, just putting the powerlines underground will make the road heavenly.


  8. Just another step in removing the charm that was once Panama City Beach. Why not allow the council and planning board to just blow everything up that is more than 20 years old? The rapid growth, growth that outpaced demand a few years ago, was done haphazardly and without regard for what made PCB great in the first place.

    Growth and change is necessary, and was necessary for PCB, but some of the old charm needed to be left alone and could have existed with the high-rises and mega-shopping plazas that have gone up over the last decade or so. As a visitor to PCB of a dozen trips or so, I will probably never return.


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