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Commercial and Mixed-Use Development: Code Handbook

This code handbook provides guidance for encouraging commercial and mixed-use development that follows Smart Development principles through public policy and land use ordinances.


Commercial development is constantly reinventing itself. After relocating in strip-malls, commercial development is now returning to America’s downtowns and main streets. These areas are experiencing a renaissance, as people seek more intimate and pedestrian-friendly shopping experiences. Suburban commercial centers and corridors, too, are being transformed. Some big box stores are evolving into mixed-use centers with entertainment uses, and malls are turning themselves “inside-out,” using storefronts that mimic traditional downtowns. Cities are converting brownfields into urban villages with housing, retail, entertainment, and civic uses, and e-commerce is spawning small businesses in old warehouses and along main streets. All of these innovations pose opportunities and challenges for managing growth in our communities.

This Handbook is a guide to encouraging “smart” commercial and mixed-use development through public policy and land use ordinances. The guidance is based on the following Smart Development principles.

  1. Efficient Use of Land Resources. Efficiency means urban development is compact and uses only as much land as is necessary.
  2. Full Utilization of Urban Services. Use existing service capacity where available. Size new facilities to meet planned needs. This principle recognizes that we must make the most of our infrastructure investments.
  3. Mixed Use. Mixed-use development brings compatible land uses closer together.
  4. Transportation Options. Options should include walking, bicycling, and public transit, where it is available or may be provided in the future.
  5. Detailed, Human–Scaled Design. Smart design is attractive design that is pedestrian–friendly and appropriate to community character and history.

These principles are “smart” ways of building a community, providing numerous benefits to all citizens. They represent the wise use of resources (both financial and natural resources), sound management of public facilities, and the building of community. The principles are both financially successful and publicly responsible. They are the ways that, historically, many Oregon communities were first developed. These principles are described in detail in the Smart Development Code Handbook (TGM Program, 1997).

Benefits of Smart Development

Smart development supports the State’s land use and transportation policies, and many local objectives, including: 

  • Economic development and improved tax base;
  • Revitalization of downtowns, main streets, and neighborhood centers
  • Development of needed housing close to jobs and services; and the creation of jobs close to where people live
  • Transportation choices and connectivity;
  • Walkable communities and, where applicable, transit-supportive development;
  • Decreased commuter road congestion;
  • Efficient use of existing urban services and facilities, as an alternative to extending new facilities;
  • Energy conservation through reduced reliance on the automobile; and
  • Public cost savings (over sprawl development patterns).

The Challenge

At their best, commercial “places” such as traditional downtowns and well-planned centers, give us choices – choices in how we get there,what we buy, where we work and dine, and the types of recreation and entertainment we enjoy. At their worst, they are isolated, homogeneous, automobile-dependent places with few choices, and no relationship to their surrounding environment.

Much post-World War II commercial development is located in strip malls away from housing and places of employment. This type of development is generally automobile-dependent in its location, site layout, and building design. Access to these commercial establishments without a car is often further frustrated by a lack of a local street system that serves the area where they are located. All of this contributes to traffic congestion on state highways and other major arterials and limits the ability of some people, such as the young, elderly, disabled, and economically disadvantaged, to get around without a car.

State highways built primarily to carry traffic between cities and through regions cannot continually absorb new development. As urban areas spread out and fill up, the effect is usually to put more local traffic on highways. More traffic congestion occurs as autos and trucks move among the commercial establishments and adjacent uses. This creates “friction” between local traffic and other vehicles as each turns off and on the highway. Complicating matters is that many older developments do not conform to current land use regulations, including standards for pedestrian facilities, parking and driveway design, landscaping, signs, etc. Over time, congestion and safety problems increase, travel speeds decrease, and new transportation facilities are needed. As demand for highway construction grows, state and local governments are asked to pay for improvements they cannot afford.

Increasingly, people in Oregon and around the country are reacting negatively to some consequences of this trend, such as traffic congestion, degraded air and water quality, and loss of community character. Citizens and elected officials are reexamining land use plans and regulations, and are seeking ways to improve commercial development design, reduce automobile reliance, and harness the creativity of the market to create more livable places. Many agree that local planning policies and regulations must work harder to promote Smart Development.

How This Handbook Can Help

The market has shown that it is able to deliver more transportation-efficient and pedestrian-friendly development, but change requires thoughtful and proactive planning. This Handbook provides strategies, best practices, and model ordinances for implementing Smart Development in commercial and mixed use areas. Several state policies and technical documents informed the development of the Handbook. Specifically, the Oregon Highway Plan (OHP) and the OHP’s Land Use and Transportation Policy are referenced, and the Handbook recommendations are consistent with the State Transportation Planning Rule (TPR). For a list of other relevant documents and examples of local zoning ordinances, please refer to the Appendix.

A Voluntary Tool

Similar to other documents produced by the Oregon Transportation and Growth Management (TGM) Code Assistance Program, the Commercial and Mixed Use Development Code Handbook is a tool for voluntary use by local communities. It is also a resource for communities that are updating their comprehensive plans, development ordinances, and transportation system plans under the TGM and Department of Land Conservation and Development Grant, Periodic Review, and Technical Assistance Programs.