City Council

Proposed moratorium on high-density housing stalls

Council directs staff to take a more 'surgical approach'

Posted 7/18/17

Lakewood city council will not move forward with a moratorium on high-density housing proposed by Ward 1 Councilwoman Ramey Johnson, following a five-hour study session on July 17.

Instead, council directed city staff to examine the zoning …

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City Council

Proposed moratorium on high-density housing stalls

Council directs staff to take a more 'surgical approach'

Posted

Lakewood city council will not move forward with a moratorium on high-density housing proposed by Ward 1 Councilwoman Ramey Johnson, following a five-hour study session on July 17.

Instead, council directed city staff to examine the zoning ordinance and focus on areas like parking, height limits, residential caps and housing diversity. Staff will come up with a schedule to tackle these issues in the coming weeks, with the aim of starting as soon as possible.

"The idea that an elected body of any city would voluntarily kill economic development anywhere in the city is irresponsible," Ward 2 Councilman Scott Koop said during the meeting. "We're here for the entire city, so let's look at the zoning code, instead of spending this time on a moratorium."

The moratorium would have directed staff to immediately suspend action on applications for building permits to construct multifamily housing projects of more than 10 dwelling units.

The moratorium would not have affected housing projects already in the works

Mayor Adam Paul, Koop, Ward 2 Councilwoman Sharon Vincent, Ward 3 Councilwoman Shakti, and Ward 5 Councilwomen Dana Gutwein and Karen Harrison opposed the moratorium, saying years of time went into updating the zoning ordinance in 2013, and the moratorium is a too broad of an approach to tackling specific issues.

"I can't agree with a moratorium — there's too many good things that are finally happening," Vincent said during the meeting. "I'm voting against, not because I don't think there are huge issues, but this isn't the right way to deal with it."

About 50 people spoke during the nearly three-hour public comment portion of the meeting, with the majority speaking against the moratorium. This included residents, business owners and developers, who voiced concerns about making Lakewood an exclusive community where average people can't afford to live, as well as slowing the city's economic growth.

"Many of our neighborhood Jeffco schools are seeing a decline in enrollment, because families struggle to afford to live here," said Christine Wiggins, a Lakewood resident and teacher at Bear Creek High School. "Lakewood has some of most amazing parks and recreation activities, lakes and communities, so why are we driving away the very people these resources were created for by limiting their ability to afford to live here?"

Those in favor of the moratorium called it a needed break to slow what they view as too-fast development that is damaging the character of the community. They hoped the moratorium would allow council to clarify the zoning code, and give the city's infrastructure time to catch up.

"I know there are issues with the current zoning. There are places where you can take it as two different meanings, and that needs to be looked at," said resident Jerri Dulin. "I don't think a six-month pause is going to hurt anybody. It's just going to give you all a chance to make sure that you know where we're going and how we're getting there, and that everybody reading the laws that are written can understand that also."

High-density development has been a concern in the city for years,with both council members and residents saying they've been trying to get the topic handled for years with no progress made.

"By making a motion for a moratorium, it has created the dialogue that we have put off. It's done exactly what it should have done, making that motion," Johnson said during the meeting. "I never believed council would support this. Some of us would support this, but the entire council will not."

A need for change

Johnson proposed the moratorium in June as a way to address concerns by some constituents who believe too much high-density is coming to the city without the proper planning and consideration of current residents.

"After we rewrote the zoning ordinance, I started getting feedback about high-density apartments coming into the city," Johnson said. "Many of these developments aren't building enough parking spaces, because even though we're hoping for more transit-oriented development, people aren't giving up their cars."

The city has been conducting a housing survey for several months, and Johnson would also like more development to wait until the survey is done, so council and staff can see what the city's current housing options and needs are. The city also has a Union Boulevard Corridor transportation study Johnson would like to see the results of.

For Johnson, the hope was that city staff would have used the six months of a moratorium to address concerns in the zoning code, including parking, building height limits, and getting adjacent property owner input.

"Things are happening too quickly, and I want us to pause and take a look at things that aren't working for us," she said. "I'm not trying to stop growth and development, and this isn't a political strategy. I don't believe public policy should be ego-driven — this is an issue we need to look at, sooner rather than later."

Paul and others who opposed the moratorium said it was too vague, and didn't take into account the ramifications of stopping the city's processes for six months.

"There are concerns, but I want to clean them up in a smart and strategic way," Paul said. "A broad moratorium like this is not getting to the core of the issue. I want to bring the conversation back to what we're hearing from the community."

Paul has been meeting with each councilperson individually to discuss the specific concerns they're hearing from their constituents, and the information from these meetings is what council directed staff to look at the end of the July 17 study session. Paul calls it a more surgical approach.

"My goal is to really dig into issues like parking limits, residential caps, and multifamily housing," he said. "The moratorium approach is too vague, and I want to look at specific issues in a closer way."

While not affiliated with the Lakewood Neighborhood Partnerships' proposed ballot initiative to place a 1 percent annual limit on residential growth and return decisions on large multifamily projects to city council, the moratorium comes from a similar place, said Cathy Kentner, board member of Lakewood Neighborhood Partnerships.

"The moratorium gives council a chance to discuss and fix the problems in the zoning ordinance which discourage single-family homes, townhomes and other ownership opportunities in favor of high-profile, high-density apartments," she said. "Our initiative looks more at ensuring high density is built in the right places, and there are more ownership opportunities. They're both dealing with similar problems residents have been talking about for years."

If there was one consensus from the meeting and the proposed moratorium, it's that Lakewood residents care about their city, and want to make it the best place it can be.

"There was a lot of emotion tonight from a lot of folks talking about what they thought was best for their community, and none of them were wrong, because every one of them felt what they were saying is the best thing for Lakewood," said Ward 1 Councilman Charley Able during the meeting. "However we do this, we need to solve the problem. We all need to pull together like our community pulled together tonight to share their points of view with us."

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