Affordable housing project wins support

Westminster councilors struggle with St. Marks Village project

Posted 9/18/19

Giving new people a chance to live in Westminster ultimately outweighed zoning concerns over a new affordable housing development Sept. 10 as City Councilors approved the St. Mark Village …

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Affordable housing project wins support

Westminster councilors struggle with St. Marks Village project

Posted

Giving new people a chance to live in Westminster ultimately outweighed zoning concerns over a new affordable housing development Sept. 10 as City Councilors approved the St. Mark Village Development.

“I’ve always said that in Westminster, our citizens should be able to work, play, learn and live in our city,” Councilor Michelle Haney said Sept. 10 toward the end of the special meeting. “I think we do a good job with work, we do a good job with play and I think we do a good job with learning. I’m not sure we always do a good job with allowing people to live here.”

Haney was among councilors that voted to approve a list of exceptions and allow the project to proceed on the vacant lot in the shadow of the city’s 97th and Federal Boulevard water towers.

The meeting began on Monday, Sept. 9, with presentations from city staff and representatives from development group St. Charles Town Company, followed by comments from more than 50 — including neighbors and affordable housing advocates.

Councilors took that meeting until about 11:30 p.m. adjourning until the following night.

In all, the measure won City Council support by a vote of 5-2, with Councilors Jon Voelz and Dave DeMott voting against it.

Affordable housing

The project calls for constructing seven three-story apartment buildings on the lot. They’d contain 216 apartment buildings, a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units. All would offer below-market, affordable rents.

To do that, developers needed to combine six lots north of 97th Avenue and east of Federal into a single lot, north of St. Mark’s Church and wrapping around the Wishbone Restaurant. They also needed to change the zoning on the property from mixed-use — commercial and residential — to a higher density residential zoning.

During their deliberations, councilors agreed the project is a good one, but they expressed reservations about putting it in the 97th Avenue neighborhood. The Northpark subdivision is immediately north of the project and Environs, a single-family and townhome development is to the southwest.

Exceptions

Councilor David DeMott said the project required too many exceptions to fit the city’s zoning rules. Those included setbacks from the Northpark properties, reduced landscaping, a lack of carports or covered parking spaces, as well as an overall lack of parking. Zoning for the property would require 374 spaces, but developers are providing 273 — 74 spaces to few.

In all, the city staff noted 23 exceptions to city zoning rules councilors would need to approve.

“My problem is, the amount of exceptions,” DeMott said. “Specifically, the parking exception is one I have a hard time with. But overall, the amount of exceptions is too much for me to get past.”

Councilor Voelz said he usually supports affordable housing projects, but did not think the project was in harmony with neighbors. He was concerned about new traffic in the area as well as parking and said he was bothered by the lack of landscaping and of multi-use trails connecting to other parts of the area.

“I really do appreciate the developers coming forward and working on this very hard, and I appreciate everyone speaking up on this,” Voelz said. “But I cannot be a yes vote on this.”

Heartburn

Even councilors that ultimately voted to approve the project had difficulty getting there.

Councilor Kathryn Skulley initially said she was undecided. She said her goal as a councilor is to help unify the city.

“And I’m asking myself tonight, does this development unify and bring our community together?” Skulley said. “I’m not sure I’m there. I’m not sure that’s what I’m seeing, so I’m struggling. I believe in affordable housing. I think it has incredible purpose and we need to have it all over our city, everywhere. This meets that need, and I want it for that land. What I’m struggling with is the density level and with the traffic.”

Councilor Anita Seitz said she felt the project met the city’s overall goals and criteria in spite of the number of zoning exceptions.

“Are they warranted?” Seitz said. “The city is always striving to make sure that we don’t have such prescriptive rules in our code that we miss the forest for the trees. I feel like this is to allow the flexibility we require and allow for innovation and creativity.”

Seitz said the city needs to be creative to find good uses for smaller parcels, like the six-acre lot.

Councilor Sheela Mahnke noted that city staff told councilors that the parking was adequate, despite zoning, and that the project would not have a major impact on traffic in the area.

“So I am going on the recommendations of city staff,” Mahnke said. “I will say that workforce and affordable housing like this can be part of the solution to traffic problems, if people can live and work in the same community.”

Even Councilor Haney said the project’s density initially gave her heartburn.

“Not that I am thinking this is the total resolution to all issues, I would be going against my values if I don’t support this project,” Haney said.

That convinced Skulley to ultimately support it.

“I’m still playing with is all in my head but I liked what Councilor Haney had to say, that not everybody has the ability to live here and we need to provide that,” Skulley said. “That was a really moving statement.”

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