Here is a chance to influence Westminster going forward

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 3/1/21

The City of Westminster’s “Westminster Forward” endeavor continues to chug along toward a time when public comment will be offered. This multi-faceted planning process is important for all of …

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Here is a chance to influence Westminster going forward

Posted

The City of Westminster’s “Westminster Forward” endeavor continues to chug along toward a time when public comment will be offered. This multi-faceted planning process is important for all of us who call Westminster home.

There are five different components to the process. In my mind, the comprehensive land-use plan is by far the most important part of “Westminster Forward.” The comprehensive land-use plan contains the designations of what land uses and at what density or developer intensity are allowed.

When finalized, they will set the direction and character of Westminster to the year 2040. If you care about your community and how the remaining 636 acres of developable land are to be used, I would highly encourage you to be involved in what city staff is unveiling.

Also, the updated plan will address proposed changes in land uses on existing developed land. Given Westminster’s approximate 2% remaining developable land, there are likely to be considerable re-development projects over time.

Opportunity to understand the
proposed plan

According to a Planning Division staffer, the comprehensive land-use plan will have initially been presented to the council at a city council study session on March 1. This presentation is to provide background information. A more substantial and forward-looking presentation and discussion are anticipated at the April 5 study session.

Even though the public is not allowed to speak at study sessions, it would be worth your time to virtually attend the April 5 presentation and discussion. You should get a good idea of what will later be unveiled to the public for input.

I would speculate that from this session, staff will have the City Council’s direction on all or a good part of the land use plan and make any desired changes.

At this time, there are no set dates for public input, but keep an eye out for notices.

A time to speak and a time to act

If you think there are too many or even enough apartment developments in Westminster, then you should let your thoughts be known. If you believe that our community has enough retail development, speak up and let your elected officials know your opinions.

If you believe that land uses, which accommodate more primary jobs, are insufficient, don’t sit quietly. If you think more open space, neighborhood parks and trails are warranted, say so without hesitation.

In other words, when the public comment time comes, be prepared to attend the meetings and make your voice heard. You can also email, call or write a letter or two.

To me, a community’s comprehensive land-use plan has always been and will be the guiding force of the community. Don’t stand for putting dense apartments like 36 units to the acre immediately adjacent to single-family detached or townhome neighborhoods. Don’t support light industrial development with a lot of truck traffic close to any type of residential development. The compatibility of adjacent land uses is essential to create harmony and livability.

This is your opportunity to influence the outcome of the plan and what will occur over the next 20 years!!

What to do with the “water gap”

It is important to remember that the allowed land uses for the future in this upcoming plan must dovetail with water resources and open space considerations one way or the other.

From past discussions, city staff has acknowledged that the city does not currently own or control sufficient water resources for the build-out of the EXISTING comprehensive land-use plan. It was stated that approximately 2,000 acre-feet of ADDITIONAL water must be acquired.

So, the question becomes what should the city council do regarding the new 20-year plan as far as reconciling land use water demands with available water resources? Another component of “Westminster Forward” is a water supply plan.

This has not yet been unveiled to the public so we don’t know what approach the staff is recommending, but I see three basic scenarios for the city council to consider.

How should the city council solve the “gap”?

My option number one would only allow land uses which total with the EXISTING water supply. That would mean a more stringent set of allowed land uses than presently is allowed.

In Option #2, the new comp plan land uses would ignore the shortage of water resources and assume that the city would be able to acquire additional water resources “along the way.” That is the current thinking of the city i.e. “betting on the come.”

Option #3 would be based on the assumption that increased water conservation measures imposed by the city council would cover any water supply shortfall when calculating the water demand of the adjusted land uses. Such measures would be imposed on all existing and future customers. Measures like higher water rates, permanent lawn watering restrictions and reduced turf allowed in new developments are possibilities.

Other considerations involving a comp plan

Although water resources are paramount in our semi-arid climate with global warming continuing to affect our weather patterns, there are obviously other basic considerations when developing a comprehensive land-use plan.

Transportation of people and commerce must be included. Potential tax revenue such as retail land use designations must be factored into the mix. The amount of open space, parks and trails are especially important in today’s society. There are other considerations, but I would submit that water resources are the main driver.

Returning to meetings in council
chambers oh so slow

Here’s some good news to report, to some degree any way: While it has been unnecessarily slow in coming, the Westminster City Council has now come to grips with city council meetings returning to the council chambers with some public in attendance.

Councilors unanimously agreed to start a phased approach with the April 12 council meeting. However, the plan developed by staff is based on a four-phased approach with incremental in-person attendance of the public.

Phase one does not allow ANY public attendance. Only city council and minimal staff are allowed in the council chambers and even then they have the option to participate remotely.

Phase two would only allow public attendance to testify in a public hearing. If you just want to come and see your city council in action on a Monday night, you can forget it! With social distancing, a maximum of 32 members of the public are allowed. This includes seating in both the council chambers and the lobby area.

Phase Three would allow public attendance up to the 32 seating capacity. If necessary, a rotating, in-rotating out process would be used to accommodate all public attendees.

Phase Four is “completely open.”

More rules and procedures

There are a lot of details involving their plan — including deploying up to six police officers and utilizing 12 staff as “ambassadors,” which seems excessive. Masks are mandatory in all cases.

The public can still participate under the current remote protocols and no dates or deadlines are stated as to when the council would move from one phase to another. Obviously, all phases and procedures must comply with Tri-County Health Department regulations.

So, at least it is a start.

It is important to note the procedure for public hearings which anticipate large attendance (I am sure staff is thinking ahead about the Uplands/Pillar of Fire land public hearing): Such public hearings would be held in the council chambers but on a separate date, with only the single public hearing being on the council agenda.

The latter point is a mistake. Why not use a gymnasium like at Crown Pointe Academy or City Park Recreation Center so more people can stay for the whole public hearing? Back in the day, the city used off-site larger facilities on such occasions.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

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