Public hearing on Littleton downtown land use approaches

Amendments to code could limit building height, parking; public can weigh in Oct. 6

David Gilbert
dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 9/26/20

Littleton City Council is gearing up for an Oct. 6 public hearing on changes to land use codes in downtown. Council will decide on a package of amendments relating to development at the hearing, on …

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Public hearing on Littleton downtown land use approaches

Amendments to code could limit building height, parking; public can weigh in Oct. 6

Posted

Littleton City Council is gearing up for an Oct. 6 public hearing on changes to land use codes in downtown.

Council will decide on a package of amendments relating to development at the hearing, on topics including 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.

“We're talking about a seismic shift” in how land use is governed in Littleton, said City Manager Mark Relph at a Sept. 22 study session that examined potential amendments to the code.

Watch the Sept. 22 city council study session.

The Envision Littleton project is managed by project director Kathleen Osher, who is working with city departments and Kendig Keast Collaborative, a Texas-based consulting firm that focuses on municipal land use codes.

At the Oct. 6 public hearing, city council is likely to weigh in on four possible amendments. The first would limit building height in the area near downtown to four stories or 55 feet.

That's an increase from the current limit of four stories or 40 feet, imposed by the Downtown Design Standards ratified by council in 2019. But it's also a compromise down from a limit of five stories or 65 feet proposed by Kendig Keast.

At the Sept. 22 study session, councilmember Pam Grove initially argued for even tighter restrictions of three stories.

“People come through Littleton because we have character,” Grove said. “If we throw up big buildings, that will be lost.”

Kendig Keast consultants told council that five stories was considered preferable for drawing high-quality development, especially in the turbulent economic times brought about by COVID-19, but several councilmembers disagreed.

“We spent thousands of dollars on citizen surveys, and the results were clear that people wanted to preserve downtown as it is,” said Councilmember Carol Fey. “We have a thriving business district already.”

Another proposed amendment, which saw little pushback at the study session, would expand the “downtown transition area” — a zone with building code restrictions similar to but slightly looser than those in the immediate downtown blocks — expanded beyond its current boundaries, as far south as Little's Creek.

A third amendment, regarding how much parking new developments in or near downtown will be required to provide, remains somewhat ambiguous ahead of the Oct. 6 hearing.

Mayor Pro Tem Scott Melin proposed that a potential parking amendment could give city staff more “flexibility” in how much parking a development would be required to provide.

A final amendment, which saw more cohesive support from council, called for a minimum 25% roof slope on new residential developments near downtown.

Osher, the project manager, said in a phone interview she recognizes that land use code changes can be difficult to communicate to the public at large, because they deal with so much technical language.

“Communicating them in lay terms is hard to do,” Osher said. “Even the structure of the existing code is hard to work with. I don't have a breakdown to provide.”

The changes all apply to Title 10 of the city's land use code, and the version of the code with proposed rewrites included clocks in at nearly 300 pages.

Osher said while she was pleased with the amount of public input on the visioning process that led to the complan, the technical nature of the current project combined with the difficulties of the COVID era have limited public input.

“COVID has made it hard to get the level of engagement we would like, but we also knew this would get a different level of response than the vision and complan,” Osher said. “It's not everyone's cup of tea.”

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