German development law reform – what will urban zones bring?


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Summary: The German government is poised to loosen urban development planning regulations in the latest revision of the German Building Code (Baugesetz-buch – BauGB), drawing the attention of project developers, real estate investors, financers and communities alike. The amended Code introduces the new statutory zoning concept of “urban zones” in an attempt to revitalise inner city developments and prevent the spread of temporary housing settlements.

1. Overview

On 30 November 2016, the German government passed a draft bill prepared by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety as the new “Act on the Implementation of Directive 2014/52/EU in Urban Development and for the Support of New Urban Cohabitation” (Gesetz zur Umsetzung der Richtlinie 2014/52/EU im Städtebaurecht und zur Stärkung des neuen Zusammenlebens in der Stadt).

The government is seeking to address several challenges facing urban planners which are rooted not only in general migration patterns of residents into urban areas but also in technological innovations and demographic changes. Numerous ecological factors also play an increasingly vital role in planning urban developments.

The reform aims to give urban planners more flexibility in addressing these challenges. One central aspect of the new regulations is the introduction of the new zoning type “urban zone” (Urbanes Gebiet (MU)) into the Federal Land Utilisation Ordinance (Baunutzungsverordnung –BauNVO). The law also serves to adapt the Building Code to the amended EIA Directive and address other urban development aspects.

Due to the urgency of the draft bill (see Art. 76 para. 2 sentence 4 of the Basic Law - Grundgesetz), the first reading of the draft will take place on 26/27 January 2017. The Bundesrat is expected to offer its (initial) counterstatement on 10 February 2017. If the bill is passed by the Bundestag on 9/10 March 2017 as expected, the Bundesrat will pick up the bill again in a second round. The German government is making all attempts to pass the bill into law during the current legislative period. The Bundesrat is entitled to object the bill, but explicit passage by the Bundesrat is not required.

2. Urban zones

Central to the revision is the introduction of “urban zones” as a new zoning type which is to be regulated in Section 6a BauNVO. This statute pursues the political aim of promoting sustainability through reducing the development of open areas in favour of the redevelopment of built spaces (see Section 13a of the Building Code). This strategy aims to bring together diverse uses such as residential, work, retail, culture and leisure in localised neighbourhoods, following the concept of “mixed use walkable cities”, while at the same time increasing the population and development density.

In order to allow for a greater development density, Section 17 para. 1 BauNVO is to be revised to allow for a land to building ratio of up to 0.8 and a floor to area ratio of up to 3.0. By simultaneously amending the Technical Noise Protection Guidelines (TA Lärm), the benchmark noise level values for development sites will also be increased.

3. Further changes

The draft bill introduces various other changes. One key point is a change to the provisions of the Building Code and the BauNVO in regards to holiday homes and second homes. The changes seek to expand the ability of local communities to raise taxes on second homes and to provide additional legal certainty. In another break from previous regulations which have so far only required buildings converted for residential use to be adapted to the surrounding buildings, the draft bill calls for all built structures to be adapted to their vicinity.

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