By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
“We’re not done yet,” said Carbondale planning director Janet Buck on Dec. 15, speaking to the town’s board of trustees about the long-discussed Unified Development Code, which incorporates revisions to the town’s land-use code book.
But the five-year process of rewriting the town’s comprehensive land-use plan, and the town’s development review codes along with the comprehensive plan, is nearing its conclusion with an upcoming public hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) on Feb. 18, and final adoption by the trustees anticipated in March.
Overall, the UDC has been touted as an updated, streamlined version of the town’s historic land-use codes, in which portions of the code that were contradictory or unclear have been rationalized and clarified by the consultants, Clarion Associates, and the P&Z through a process that included months of meetings and hearings.
The entire process, with all the documents and revisions, has been outlined on a special website set up by town officials (www.carbondaleudc.com), and the “adoption draft” has been in the hands of the town’s boards and commissions for weeks.
Buck, in a presentation to the trustees in December, noted that the town’s codes were adopted in 1993 and have not seen a substantial rewrite since then, and added that in her experience of administering the code since 2001 she learned of numerous problems with the old code.
Among them, she said, was a need for clarification of the town’s parking requirements for approved development projects, including the creation of parking requirements for some types of land use that had none under the old code.
“So, we’d make it up,” she admitted to the trustees.
But with the UDC, she said, “We now have parking requirements for every land use” that might come before the town’s review boards.
Another area that needed to be clarified and cleaned up, she said, was the town’s map of zone districts, which govern what kind of development can be pursued in different parts of town.
Many relevant parts of the old code, she said, depended on a somewhat subjective interpretation of the zoning rules by Buck and the planning staff, “and that’s not the way to administer a code.”
P&Z Chair Gavin Brook seconded Buck’s summary of the circumstances, calling the old code “fairly outdated, messy” and an example of how unwieldy such regulations can become if they evolve over 20 years without an organized review.
The review and rewriting of the UDC process, Brook said, was needed to “level the playing field … to help make it accessible both to people hoping to do development … but also to neighbors who live here” and who might want a better understanding about what developmental changes might occur in their neighborhoods.
The UDC, Brook maintained, “creates a great framework” for future review of development proposals, though he added, “I don’t think it’s a silver bullet for Carbondale” that will solve all of the town’s land-use related conflicts and confusion.
For example, Brook said, the UDC does not set out an advocacy role for the town with regard to affordable housing, which he predicted is something the town’s elected leaders may wish to do at some point.
“It is the town trustees’ role to put that in place,” said Brook, who is a principle in the Land+Shelter architecture firm and has been involved in past developments. He suggested the trustees, or the town staff, could discuss the issue with affordable-housing experts about what has worked in the past in this region or elsewhere, and about how best to “tweak” the code in a way that could “get this affordable housing thing to work better” and create more of such housing in the town.
In response to questions from Trustee Allyn Harvey, Brook explained that the UDC does not envision a change in the town’s “inclusionary housing” regulation, which requires a developer to dedicate 20 percent of the housing in a given project to affordable housing.
And, Brook said, the UDC, like the comprehensive plan, encourages commercial development both in the historic downtown area and along Highway 133 within the town’s boundaries, through allowances for “mixed-use” developments and “new urban development” along the highway corridor, and an emphasis on a more pedestrian-friendly environment.
Brook also pointed out that there are certain aspects of the town’s codes, even with the new UDC, such as the ideas of inserting mixed-use designations in the zoning code, and the elimination of junctures where high, medium and low-density zones come together and can lead to friction among neighbors, that the trustees may want to tackle in the future.
Brook reminded the trustees, “This is a living document,” and one that should be re-examined and revised periodically to keep it current and relevant. But, he said, such revisions probably can be handled internally, without the need to hire a consultant.
Trustee Katrina Byars urged her fellow trustees to act soon on the question of advocacy for affordable housing, “because one of the byproducts of the UDC is that we will increase development, and there will be gentrification,” meaning conversion of older housing stock into high-cost, new housing.
“We are taking an action that is making things more expensive,” she declared.
Buck, in an e-mail to The Sopris Sun, explained that in advance of the Feb. 18 public hearing before the P&Z, the planning commission members will be holding at least one, and perhaps two work sessions with the trustees to ensure that “the transition from P&Z to the board is smooth.”
She wrote that the town hopes to present the final draft version of the UDC to the trustees at a meeting on March 9.
Published in The Sopris Sun on January 14, 2016.