Downtown development guidelines approved by council

Height held to four stories; parking rules loosened; move is temporary ahead of code overhaul

David Gilbert
dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 10/14/20

Littleton City Council passed a variety of new land use codes affecting development in downtown on Oct. 6, a big but ultimately temporary step in a long-term effort to overhaul how Littleton …

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Downtown development guidelines approved by council

Height held to four stories; parking rules loosened; move is temporary ahead of code overhaul

Posted

Littleton City Council passed a variety of new land use codes affecting development in downtown on Oct. 6, a big but ultimately temporary step in a long-term effort to overhaul how Littleton develops.

Council unanimously approved the Phase II Amendments package regarding downtown development, after adding a series of amendments with implications for building height and parking.

The land use codes won’t be on the books for long, however — the current code revamp is intended to serve as a “bridge” while city staff and boards work on a total overhaul of the city’s land use codes, called the Universal Land Use Code or ULUC.

The ULUC will serve as the culmination of the Envision Littleton project, a years-long endeavor to craft a new citywide land use code, following the ratification of a new citywide comprehensive plan or “complan” late last year. The ULUC is expected to be completed by October 2021.

Read the city's new complan.

In the meantime, the new code sets new standards for development in the downtown blocks along Main and Alamo streets, and in the nearby neighborhoods stretching north and south.

Among the most significant of the new codes — or at least the most hotly debated — is height limits for new buildings in the downtown zone.

Council ultimately approved an amendment limiting height of buildings in or immediately adjacent to the downtown blocks to four stories or 55 feet, down from a recommendation for a limit of five stories and 65 feet suggested by Kendig Keast Collaborative, a consulting firm hired by the city to create draft land use codes.

The consulting firm argued a five-story limit was important to ensure developers felt confident about receiving a return on investment, especially in tough economic times.

Numerous citizens also called into the Oct. 6 meeting to express support for a five-story limit, saying taller buildings could facilitate more room for affordable and attainable workforce housing.

Watch the Oct. 6 city council meeting.

Callers supporting a five-story limit included Corey Reitz, who heads South Metro Housing Options, the city’s public housing authority; Kathryn Roy, who heads Love INC., a nonprofit focused on assistance for low-income people; David Ortiz, a Democratic candidate for the state House; Julia Montano, who helped organize Littleton’s Black Lives Matter Solidarity Walk in June; and former Littleton city councilmember Kyle Schlachter.

Several councilmembers, however, said allowing loftier buildings was counter to widely-expressed citizen desires to maintain a more low-key character in downtown reflected in months of outreach.

“Unless it’s mandated, an additional floor wouldn’t be assumed to be for people in a lower income status,” said Pam Grove, who formerly chaired the city’s Historical Preservation Board and who championed the four-story limit. Grove said the vast majority of buildings in the vicinity of downtown are already below 55 feet.

“I don’t understand why we have to have bigger and more massive buildings in downtown for them to be economically viable,” Grove said.

Councilmember Carol Fey, who has also been staunch in her opposition to the five-story limit, said taller buildings are no guarantee of affordability, citing the Grove apartment complex — now called Vita — farther east along Littleton Boulevard, which is five stories tall but has no units priced for lower-income residents.

Mayor Pro Tem Scott Melin said while he is eager to undertake efforts to boost housing affordability in Littleton, he felt allowing five-story buildings in downtown was putting the cart before the horse.

“The reason we have such stark housing needs is because the Front Range housing market does not operate to achieve those things,” Melin said. “Because downtown is such a desirable place to live, we are far more likely to get high-end housing ... we risk creating a preserve of affluence.”

Councilmember Kelly Milliman expressed the most steadfast support on council for a five-story limit.

“We’re a growing city, and we’ll need housing throughout the city, not just downtown,” Milliman said. “We owe it to businesses to support that ... I don’t understand this fear of heights. If it goes from four to five stories, it doesn’t make it affordable, but it gives us the chance to make it affordable.”

Ultimately, council voted 5-2 in favor of a four-story limit, with councilmembers Milliman and Pat Driscoll voting against it.

The other significant amendment passed by council lowered the minimum of parking spaces a multifamily housing development is required to provide to one space per housing unit. The previous minimum was one space for a one-bedroom apartment, and two spaces for a two-bedroom or larger apartment.

Melin drove the amendment, saying it was a chance to shift the feel of development away from being dominated by accommodating cars.

“A surface (parking) lot with each new development would erode character,” Melin said.

The measure passed 6-1, with only Fey voting against it.

In a separate public hearing following the hearing on code amendments, council unanimously approved a 90-day moratorium on approving new development in downtown — the third such moratorium this year, intended to prevent hang-ups in permit applications while city code remains in flux.

The new moratorium is specifically related to an as-yet-incomplete set of zoning changes in downtown, which city attorney Reid Betzing requires more public input before approval.

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