It might well be a sing of an political apocalypse when almost all candidates in a race are united on a particular issue, but that appears to be the case in the coming city election in Lakewood.
Practically all 11 candidates for the five open …
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Practically all 11 candidates for the five open ward seats agree that something has to be done to address concerns about so much development happening at its current pace.
It’s in the area of what to do about the situation that things get messy.
“People don’t object to growth, but it needs to be done in a way that is respectful of existing neighborhoods and adjacent residential areas,” said Ward 1 councilwoman Ramey Johnson, who is running for re-election to her seat. “As Lakewood grows and develops, we have to respect the quality of life of those who are here.”
Many of the candidates are in favor of a re-examination of the city’s zoning code, and updating areas that need to be clarified are changed.
“We need to restore sanity to the zoning codes by restoring residential dwelling unit caps. Also, the new multiuse zones are misused by apartment developers to not only cram more people in but to limit necessary quality of life requirements,” said Michael Bieda, candidate for Ward 3. “Future developments should be evaluated for their impact on the current residents — traffic, infrastructure, crowding, and financial burden on our local government entities.”
Others, like Ward 5 incumbent Karen Harrison, are less enthused about updating plans that already required years of work when they were updated in 2012-2013. Harrison was part of that process, and said the challenge is the same now as it is then — citizen input and participation.
“A lot of the meetings we offered weren’t very well attended, and that remains the same for our ward meetings,” she said. “We need active outreach to our neighborhoods, and may need to rethink the 500-foot limit on project notifications that we currently have in our code.”
With a few notable exceptions (like the Rooney Valley area, located just east of C-47O), Lakewood is built out. Residents came out on both sides of the debate over Rooney Valley’s future, and interest remains high in its potential.
“City Council needs to address all possible scenarios of what could or could not happen with the impacts of this new development, prior to approval,” said Nancy Pallozzi, challenger for Ward 5. “One of my biggest concerns is schools. There is no possible way these schools can absorb these children as they are already at capacity.”
As a result of the lack of open fields in Lakewood, developers most focus on infill projects, which bring their own challenges — particularly in areas where high density housing is a rarity, and not welcomed by citizens.
“Infill development and higher density may be beneficial and welcome in certain parts of the city, whereas in others that same kind of project is detrimental,” wrote David Skilling, candidate for Ward 4, in an email interview. “What works in one ward may not work in another. I hear from residents all the time who are tired of Lakewood imposing policies on Green Mountain that lead to more and more reckless, high-density residential building without any regard for the character of our specific area.”
Most of the candidates recognize that there’s no blanket fix to situation, and that’s why, even if the motive is understood, there is not a lot of support for the 1 percent growth cap ballot initiative from Lakewood Neighborhood Partnerships.
“We shouldn’t have a knee-jerk reaction to what’s happening,” said Charles Davis, who is running for the Ward 2 seat. “We need to take emotion out of it, and look at the city’s plans and make changes where they’re needed.”
One common complaint about the initiative is the potential it has to raise housing costs in a city where it is already difficult to find affordable living.
“I work in real estate so I know what the growth cap would do to housing prices. We can see that with the prices in Boulder,” said Ward 4 candidate LaDawn Sperling. “It’s already challenging for a first-time homebuyer to purchase a home in Lakewood and the growth cap would make it challenging for ‘move up’ buyers to purchase in Lakewood.”
An example of positive development several candidates cite is happening along West Colfax Avenue, following the W Rail line. After years of falling into neglect, the avenue is now a hub of creative and transit-oriented activity.
“I would encourage building and development on Colfax and the seven transit stops,” said Michael Gifford, the other candidate for the Ward 3 seat, in an email interview. “This will deal with both traffic congestion and development concerns.”
Insufficient infrastructure is one of the main reasons many who are against high density development oppose large projects, but candidates like Jacob LaBure, see positive signs ahead.
“While I don’t enjoy the traffic that results from construction, that investment in our roads is important,” LaBure, who is running for the Ward 2 seat, said. “We will have to continue to work with residents and businesses, and talk about why infrastructure is important to protect their homes, their property, and their businesses.”
Providing information to residents about what the planning and development process will not only encourage participation, but help to allay fears many have because of misunderstandings, said William Furman, candidate for Ward 4.
“There’s a lot of fear out there that aren’t based on anything,” he added. “Closing the door could very well negatively affect attainable housing.”
It’s important to remember Lakewood isn’t along in facing these challenges, and that camaraderie can foster teamwork.
“The whole Denver Metro area is growing, which can be scary,” said Ward 1 challenger Kyra deGruy. “Lakewood’s inclusiveness is one of the reasons my family moved here. I want to stay in Lakewood and to preserve the character we all love about this beautiful city.”
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