Managing city’s growth ensures strong future

Posted 10/2/17

As the campaigns for Westminster mayoral and city council candidates reach a key milestone in the respective races, the highest-priority topic, in my opinion, is the whole discussion of new development/redevelopment in Westminster.

This has …

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Managing city’s growth ensures strong future

Posted

As the campaigns for Westminster mayoral and city council candidates reach a key milestone in the respective races, the highest-priority topic, in my opinion, is the whole discussion of new development/redevelopment in Westminster.

This has especially occurred in the mayoral race among incumbent Mayor Herb Atchison and his two challengers, Bruce Baker and Rich Seymour, as reflected in their comments and campaign materials.

Where do mayoral candidates stand?

I would encourage every Westminster voter to check the candidates’ websites, campaign literature and attend any candidate forums to size up what each candidate is saying about future development of the city, what each one supports or does not support and how each would embrace the development community.

In the case of Mayor Atchison and City Councilor Baker, you can check the minutes of previous city council meetings from the past four years on how each voted on specific development proposals. In the case of Seymour, he has not served on any elected governmental governing board so we cannot point to his track record.

Guiding and managing growth

The future of any city requires a plan and strategies on how the community is to either remain vibrant or strive to be vibrant. New development is key to every city.

Westminster is certainly already vibrant and demonstrates a plan to remain so. The current city council and mayor are currently working on updating the city’s comprehensive land use plan and its growth management plan. These are essential guiding documents for the future growth of the community including the focus on land use and pace of growth.

For those of you who may not know, Westminster was an early proponent and practitioner of a growth management plan. In the mid-1970s, when new development was occurring at a fast pace, city leaders saw the need to manage the pace of growth within reasonable boundaries based on the city’s capacity to provide city services. In particular, water resources and both water and wastewater treatment capacities were key factors in determining the number of building permits each developer could obtain.

Updated land use plan is essential

This guiding philosophy of managed growth is still utilized by Westminster city government. Now, it will be fine-tuned along with the updating of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan to reflect changes in the market place and what land use changes are warranted.

The public will certainly have opportunities to weigh in on the proposed changes.

Given the continued need to realize a diversified tax base, I would hope the staff and city council will focus on non-residential land uses, but also reduce the emphasis on new retail development. First, residential development does not pay its own way. Second, while retail development more than pays its own way, too much of a good thing can be detrimental as cannibalization of the whole retail base happens when there are too many retail businesses.

Focus needs to be on primary job-creating land uses like high tech, light industry, assembly and the like. More office development is good along with some entertainment. More hotels in Westminster are questionable in my mind.

So, you can see planning for future development is important. The right combination of land uses to balance out the remainder of the undeveloped land with a fiscal eye in mind is essential. Regarding open space, the city has exceeded the original 15 percent goal of city-owned open space and trails. In total, over 30 percent of the land within Westminster is open space, parks, trails, golf courses and the Standley Lake Regional Park. That is a significant accomplishment! Most cities do not have an asset of this magnitude.

Again, good planning pays off.

Incentives are an essential tool

New development with the amenities we all want is expensive in today’s market. In order to attract quality development, there are times when incentives are necessary to get the developer to commit and build in your community.

Most every city in the Denver metro area offers incentives. Besides waiving fees or building use tax or new sales tax, tax increment financing is a common tool which cities use through their urban renewal authorities.

A TIF, as it is called, captures sales tax, use tax and property tax revenues above the base dollar value that already exists. Taxes on the original value go to the city’s regular general fund, while the urban renewal authority uses the “increment” of additional tax revenue.

These funds are in part used to assist the developer in reducing his costs on such things as street improvements, drainage facilities, water lines, sewer lines and sidewalks.

Such incentives can be essential to “close the deal.” Otherwise, the developer will likely find another site in an adjacent city where he can get the needed incentives.

TIFs are not bad, as implied by one mayoral candidate. They are a way of doing business.

And we all need to remember — the tax revenue involved is not coming out of existing tax revenue, but new tax revenues. If the development does not build in your city in the first place, the city does not get the revenue or the benefit of the land being developed, i.e., job creation, shopping opportunities or new taxes.

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