A controversial mid-Westminster housing development package will move on to City Council next month after the city’s Planning Commission recommended some changes to the city’s comprehensive plan. …
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A controversial mid-Westminster housing development package will move on to City Council next month after the city’s Planning Commission recommended some changes to the city’s comprehensive plan.
Planning Commissioners voted unanimously Jan. 14 to recommend approval of amendments to three parcels that are part of the overall Uplands development targeted for the Pillar of Fire farm land between 84th and 88th Avenues and Lowell and either side of Federal Boulevard.
Planning Director Rita McConnell cautioned that the commissioners’ decision was not a vote on the overall Uplands development proposal but a preliminary step that allows developers Oread Capital to continue through the City of Westminster’s processes. The vote related to three small parcels that are part of the developer’s plan, not the largest parcel in the project, the area known as the Farm by neighbors.
“The comprehensive plan indicates support for the uses shown on the map because we have already planned for development to occur in these areas,” McConnell said at the beginning of the meeting.
Now, the three amendments go to the Westminster City Council, tentatively set for the Feb. 10 meeting.
“The amendment allows the applicant to apply for additional approvals,” she said, “Additional approvals required annexation, rezoning and a preliminary development plan.”
As limited as the vote was, Planning Commissioners did signal that they favored the Uplands proposal. Commission Chair James Boschert said he would love to see the property remain open space.
“But in this country, private land owners are allowed to develop their property,” Boschert said. “I believe this developer will do the best job of any that we’ve seen so far. I believe he is going to do very conscientious development and, along with the planning department staff, is going to protect the rights of the citizens of this city.”
Commissioner Larry Dunn agreed, saying he has confidence in the developer.
“I think that they will find the right balance for the needs of the community,” Dunn said.
Only Alternate Commissioner Chennou Xiong, who listened to the hearing but did not cast a vote, said he would oppose the plan if he’d had the chance.
Comprehensive plan changes
Development group Oread Capital is advancing the Uplands plan to develop the farmland between 84th and 88th avenues and Federal and Lowell Boulevards as well as parcels east of Federal and on both sides of Bradburn Drive west of Lowell — all land currently owned by the Pillar of Fire Church but contracted to sell to Oread Capital.
Neighbors have objected to the proposal, saying it would add to traffic problems in the area and change the character of the Shaw Heights neighborhood.
But McConnell said the question before Commissioners Tuesday — and City Councilors Feb. 10 — is much more basic. The developers are hoping to change the way the city’s comprehensive plan refers to three lots. Full zoning changes to those parcels as well as a full site development plan are not on the table currently. Those issues won’t proceed until later this summer, she said.
The developers are asking to rezone a vacant parcel west of Lowell Boulevard on either side of Bradburn Drive. The current zoning their allows three housing units per acre. The zoning request would allow five.
They also hope to change zoning on a vacant parcel east of Federal Boulevard and south of 84th from office to allow up to eight housing units per acre and to designate a one acre parcel at 88th and Zuni to make it open space. It’s currently zoned for office uses.
Oread’s plan calls for converting the large open space surrounding the church into a massive mixed-use development, with housing options ranging from single-family homes to apartments and townhomes as well as parks and commercial areas.
The project would take several years to complete, ultimately having room for 2,350 dwelling units in a mix of housing types. It would ultimately have to be approved by the City Council.
Homes for jobs
Project Lead Jeff Handlin said the goal is to create affordable homes, ranging from townhomes and condominiums to duplexes, tri-plexes and small single family units in a well thought out community. The city currently provides few housing options in what he called “the missing middle” — between massive, expensive single family homes and apartments.
“Why does that matter? Those housing types are really important for a couple of reasons,” Handlin said. “One, their size and design is suited to young families and to downsizing seniors and empty nesters. Those are exactly the folks that are struggling to find homes. Second, it provides enough destiny that it will support local transit.”
Westminster and the Metro North area continues to add jobs, but not many places where professionals with young families can live, he said.
“There is an unrelenting truth in economics, new jobs equal new households equals new homes, or as my mentor put it, homes are where jobs go to spend the night,” Handlin said. “We have talked to lots of local employers and their number one concern is that their employees cannot find housing in the area.”
But the main feature of the three hour long public hearing was the opponents, many from the neighborhood surrounding the farmland. At least 44 people signed up to speak against the plan during two hours of public testimony.
Neighbor Karen Ray, one of the organizers behind the Save the Farm group, took issue with Handlin’s “missing middle designation.”
“We already have a wonderful community of the middle,” she said. “We heard the developer talk of the missing middle, well this really is the middle. This is the middle class, that lives in Shaw Heights, that will be deeply effected by this kind of development.”
Ken Biles, another Save the Farm member, argued against just reviewing the questions before the Planning Commission, and not considering the entire project.
“Nothing happens in a vacuum,” Biles said. “When you look at the big picture, the entire plan, even I can see that it doesn’t add up.”
Biles noted that Westminster’s planning documents call for developing another 1,066 acres before the city reaches total build-out. Those documents also call for another 5,556 housing units to be built by 2035. The Upland project, with 2,350 units planned on 235 acres, takes up too much of both.
“Here’s the problem that any fifth grader should be able to solve: How do you put half the housing units the city plans to build into less than one quarter of the undeveloped land of the city?” Biles said. “It just does not ad up, and it’s that simple.”
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