Residents on Thursday called on the Colorado Springs Planning Commission to rework the proposed zoning code ahead of a vote in October to preserve rights for more people to appeal city decisions, protect neighborhood character and promote affordable housing.
Residents with the Historic Neighborhoods Partnership called out specific changes in the proposed code, known as Retool Colorado Springs, they want to see to protect neighborhoods, such as restoring a rule that can prevent older homes from getting scrapped in favor of a bigger house; adding a rule to buffer gas stations from homes, schools and other gathering spaces; and implementing parking requirements for developers expanding residential buildings in historic neighborhoods.
Residents offered their comments on a new draft of the zoning code that could be adopted in the coming months and reshape how the city develops in the coming decades.
“ReTool is complex and there is new language in this current draft that we have not seen before. … Frankly, we do have big concerns,” said Dianne Bridges, chairwoman of the Historic Neighborhoods Partnership.
At the same time, Colorado Springs Faith Table representatives called for greater flexibility in the proposed zoning code to allow for more variety of homes in single-family neighborhoods to help address the housing shortage.
While the two groups could at times sound at odds, Susan Bolduc, with the Faith Table, said affordable housing options don’t necessarily need to impinge on existing neighborhood’s architecture and character and can include promoting options such as duplexes and triplexes.
“We need missing-middle housing for smaller households,” she said.
She noted that a vast majority of the community is zoned for single-family homes and that does not account for smaller families that have become more common in recent decades. The absence of affordable housing can also hurt the economy by preventing residents from living close to their employers, she said.
Despite the thousands of apartments that have been built or are in the planning stages in town, the cost of housing continues to rise, in part because of the high demand. The average apartment rent has jumped more than $300 a month to $1,571 in the last three years, the Gazette reported previously.
Bolduc and others asked the city for more flexible zoning in existing neighborhoods because the current proposal leaves existing residential zoning in place. Those interested in building higher density housing in an older single-family neighborhood would have to ask Colorado Springs City Council for a zoning change. The city is offering more flexible zoning options for neighborhoods that have yet to be built.
Historic Neighborhoods Partnership members asked for specific changes to the proposed code, including the restoration of limits on lot coverage, that could allow for much larger homes in single-family neighborhoods. The elimination of the limits could allow more people to tear down older homes on smaller lots and build much larger homes, a trend known as scrap and build that has happened in other areas of Colorado, said Mike Anderson, one of several people who spoke on behalf of the partnership. Such a trend would reduce options for more entry-level housing, he said.
The advocates also called for new required setbacks to give neighborhoods, schools, parks, churches and other gathering places a greater buffer from gas stations. The lack of required buffers between homes and gas stations was highlighted by a high-profile fight over a new convenience store planned for South Eighth and West Brookside streets. The council approved the gas station in August that will be 20 feet from residents’ bedroom and bathroom windows.
Residents asked for changes to the new rules around who can appeal planning department decisions to allow for greater participation. Currently, anyone can appeal a decision. The proposed rules would require appellants to own or rent property within 1,000 feet of a project. It would also allow those within 2 miles of a project to appeal if they have participated in the city process previously by commenting at a public meeting or submitting written comments.
The advocates asked for the city not to require prior participation to appeal a decision.
The preservation advocates were also concerned the city did not plan to ask developers to add parking when they expand historic buildings. Some older homes don’t have driveways or garages and residents must already park on the street, creating a parking deficit in older parts of town.
“I get more calls on parking than anything else,” Old North End President Dutch Schulz said.
He also called for the same parking regulations to apply to short-term rentals as bed and breakfasts and for the city to think carefully before reducing parking requirements near bus stops, since bus routes can be moved and an area could have a parking deficit and no bus service, he said.
The commission is scheduled to vote on the new zoning code in October and the council may vote on it in November and December, said Morgan Hester, planning supervisor.