Council temporarily halts downtown development

90-day moratorium on two kinds of approvals gives staff 'time to breathe'

David Gilbert
dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 2/10/20

Amid a building boom that has seen dozens of king-size housing developments rise in Littleton's downtown neighborhood, city council said it's time to take a break. Council voted unanimously at its …

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Council temporarily halts downtown development

90-day moratorium on two kinds of approvals gives staff 'time to breathe'

Posted

Amid a building boom that has seen dozens of king-size housing developments rise in Littleton's downtown neighborhood, city council said it's time to take a break.

Council voted unanimously at its Feb. 4 meeting on a pair of resolutions to impose a 90-day moratorium on approving any new “auto-oriented” businesses or multi-unit residential developments in the downtown neighborhood.

The resolutions define downtown as bounded by Church Street on the south, Santa Fe Drive on the west, the county building on the north, and the railroad tracks on the east.

The move is intended to give city staff time to reconcile conflicts between the Downtown Design Standards, a set of goals for downtown development ratified by council in 2018, with the vision laid out in the city's new Complan, ratified last October, in preparation for a longer-term effort to draft new citywide land use codes.

“I wish we'd done this a few years ago,” said Littleton Mayor Jerry Valdes. “This won't solve everything, but it'll give us time to breathe so we can figure out where to go from here.”

Though city council plans to revamp land use codes across the city, staff sought a moratorium in downtown because that's where the most dramatic changes have taken place, said City Manager Mark Relph.

“The update to the Complan and code should've happened a decade ago,” Relph said. “But it is what it is, and here we are. What we've heard again and again is that people want to preserve community character, even though everyone's got a different opinion on what that means.”

Of two dozen buildings added to the downtown neighborhood in recent years, 22 were multifamily residential developments, said City Attorney Reid Betzing.

“Curtailing that consistent change while we get more established processes in place is advisable,” Betzing told council on Feb. 4.

The temporary ban on auto-oriented development is meant to ensure future development conforms with the Complan's goals of encouraging pedestrian-friendly growth, Betzing said.

Pam Chadbourne, a city council watchdog who lives in the downtown neighborhood, said the moratorium was a good idea, and hoped future code changes prioritized more versatile and accessible housing over high-end growth.

“People with young children can't live in (many of the new units), and neither can old people,” Chadbourne said. “We need accessible, universal design. It needs to be affordable ... A moratorium is a good start.”

A housing study commissioned by the city and released in 2017 called for a far greater priority on ensuring new housing is attainable to Littleton's workforce, and accessible to the elderly and people with disabilities. The Complan places a high value on “preserving community character,” but also reiterates the need for attainable and accessible housing.

The moratorium has no impact on eight projects that are in the final stages of approval, said Mike Sutherland, the city's deputy director of community development, though he said they largely adhere to the revised downtown design standards.

The forthcoming code changes are open-ended and will benefit from robust citizen involvement, Valdes said.

“A lot of what's being built is in demand,” Valdes said. “It doesn't sit vacant long. We'll keep seeing developers come in with ideas, good and bad. We'll never please everybody, but I hope people will be patient and willing to work with us.”

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