Newest Comp plan draft leaves room for doubt

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 5/3/21

The title on the city’s website stated “What will Westminster look like in 20 years? That is a great question and deserves the full attention, thought and input from Westminster citizens. The …

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Newest Comp plan draft leaves room for doubt

Posted

The title on the city’s website stated “What will Westminster look like in 20 years? That is a great question and deserves the full attention, thought and input from Westminster citizens.

The question ties in with the unveiling of the draft 2040 Westminster Comprehensive Plan. It covers all the important components of a community, but the “heart and soul” of any community’s future planning is the land use component.

The Comprehensive Plan is the “bible” in establishing allowed land uses, densities, design standards and a lot more. With approximately only one square mile of undeveloped land left in Westminster, the updated, proposed Comprehensive Plan becomes all the more important.

It is especially important to tie the allowed land uses - i.e. apartments, townhouses, retail, office and their projected water consumption - to available water resources. Given Colorado’s semi-arid climate and the continuing impacts of global warming, water is the main driver.

Certainly, you don’t want your local government to commit to more water consumption via allowed land uses than it can serve in a dependable, quality way.

Citizens’ input is vital

The city has announced a public comment period on the plan through May 31. It is user friendly on the city web site in accommodating comments on each section of the plan.

There is also a guided review program online that lets citizens can participate, commenting as they read the document. Hard copies of the guided program are available for those who aren’t comfortable with the Internet at both College Hill and Irving Street Libraries.

While it remains to be seen to what extent the City Council will adhere to citizen comments, it is fundamentally important for citizens to educate themselves on what the plan would allow and then speak up on those provisions, standards, land uses, densities etc. which are important to you.

Updating a community’s Comprehensive Plan does not come around that often. In Westminster, the last time the plan was updated was 2013.

Getting this plan right really matters

Let’s remember some of the hard lessons learned in the years since adopting the 2013 comp plan. I say this because if modifications are not made before adoption of the plan, it is difficult to overcome the allowed land use and density.

A good case in point is the ridiculous density allowed on the Saint Mark’s Catholic Church’s property adjacent to Federal Boulevard which was sold to a developer. The 2013 plan allowed 36 apartment units to the acre and that is what the developer relied on when purchasing the land.

Take a look today at how non-compatible that density is up against existing townhouse or single-family dwellings.

Another example, but from a different perspective, is the Pillar of Fire land which is under development review. The 2013 Comp Plan calls for an allowed maximum of over 3,300 dwelling units with the idea of interjecting new urbanism concepts.

Again, in my opinion it was a mistake to allow such a large number. Fortunately, the developer of the Uplands residential plan contemplates a maximum of 2,350 dwelling units. What if the developer had pushed to build the full density allowed? See the importance of “getting it right” from the start before the city council adopts the new plan?

Tough when ‘answers’ are so confusing

As we all know, land use with defined residential density equals water demand.

When the draft 2040 Comprehensive Plan was unveiled, I attempted to tie projected water demand to the combined residential land uses contained in the new plan. Basically, I was asking for a chart that stated the maximum number of allowed residential dwelling units under each density category.

Back in the day when I was city manager, each residential category was assigned a water unit value stated in “service commitments” or portions thereof. When I asked city staff for this chart or the calculations needed to determine the amount of NEW water demand, I was told that no such chart or calculation exists.

I was told, in part, that “Looking solely at the number of future residential dwelling units on the few remaining vacant lands does not consider the many variables that go into accounting for developments’ impacts on water supply…

“Based on the results of these efforts and analyses (referring to studies and comparisons done by staff), conservation and smart drought response remain the single most important factors in determining long-term water needs of the community. Furthermore, when considered within the context of Westminster being over 95% built-out and with less than 5% of vacant land remaining for any new development and informed by the Water Efficiency Plan and Sustainability Plan strategies, these analyses indicate that the sustainability and resiliency of existing neighborhoods and business districts will need to be a central focus of any strategies moving forward.”

Transparency is a missing part of city government

Would someone tell me what the heck city staffer said?

If staff knows how many dwelling units are at play with developers and landowners counting on what the new Comp Plan says, they sure didn’t reveal the number.

See, that is the same old problem with this city administration that Mayor Atchison and the three council members who vote together fail to challenge. Transparency is a major missing factor at Westminster City Hall. You never get all of the facts or the whole answer from them. I ask straight-forward questions and get diverted and often incomplete answers.

Another example of a lack of transparency is found in the recent flyer with your water bill addressing the 2022 water rates. They tell us that the average increase on your water portion of your bill will be about 4%. However, do they include the new rate schedule? No, it is not to be found. That is fundamental information.

Where is the accountability and openness?

The public deserves much better accountability, transparency and openness from its city government. There is a lot of hype and rhetoric coming from city officials.

As citizens, we don’t want to hear the platitudes they heap upon each other. Skip the “cutting edge”, “innovative” and “thinking outside the box” clichés and get back to performing the basic services in an effective, responsible, well-communicated and cost-effective manner.

Perhaps you could start with street surface patching.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. You can contact him at bcjayhawk68@gmail.com.

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