New Zoning Regulations Feed Development Boom, Spur Change
Colorado is at a crux. As more people are drawn to its natural beauty and relaxed lifestyle, the less those qualities shine through. On the other hand, if these qualities are too highly valued, communities can very well price themselves out of it.
No city is currently struggling with this conundrum more than Longmont. Since its founding, Longmont has been a rural town clearly distinct from its more urban counterparts in Boulder, Fort Collins, and Denver. That line, however, is quickly blurring as populations boom and real estate costs skyrocket.
No sign is more evident of this coming change than the city council updating its zoning and land development codes for the first time in 17 years.
Though the new codes were officially enacted in September, the first development proposals making use of these new allowances are now being reviewed by Longmont Planning and Development Services, providing a glimpse into future.
For starters, Longmont will be a much more populous city. By the year 2035, the Longmont Planning Department predicts the city will grow by another 30 percent, or 24,000 people, resulting in the demand for another 9,000 units of housing as the population nears 120,000 people.
In order to minimize sprawl and preserve as much open space as possible, the city decided to focus new housing units into five new mixed-use districts throughout the city, incentivizing four-story buildings, greater density and more affordable housing along major thoroughfares and business corridors.
If successful, those changes will transform Longmont from a mid-sized town into a bustling metropolis with large walkable business districts.
The city’s vision for the next 20 years includes developing “Main Street from Pike Road to Colo. 66, and a river corridor stretching from the sugar factory to the fairgrounds as a vibrant economic, residential, cultural epicenter,” Jessica Erickson, president of Longmont Economic Development Partnership, said.
While this transformation is already taking place downtown, with developments at First Avenue and Main Street near the planned South Main Station, new large-scale developments are being planned throughout the city.
As of April, there were 39 active development proposals, 18 of which are considered minor, meaning they are not asking for any major variances and can receive administrative approval without a vote by city council. If all of the projects are approved, more than 1,700 apartments and townhomes would be created, 400 more than all of the housing approved in the previous year.
Separately, 300,000 square feet of nonresidential space is pending approval, which appears on pace to match the 711,793 square feet approved in 2018.
Should Longmont’s market remain hot, which it’s expected to with South Main Station expected to open as a regional transportation hub for the entire Front Range in 2025 , this trend is expected to continue.
“Updating the zoning is a really proactive step for the city,” said Doug Elenowitz, a principal at Trailbreak Partners LLC, which proposed a 247-unit mixed-use development at 1901 Hover St. following the zoning changes. “To the extent that the city can be a partner in facilitating the development outcomes that are sought in Longmont, it helps to manage the risk that a developer takes on. It’s far from a free pass, but it certainly knocks down some of the barriers that need to be dealt with. I hope other jurisdictions follow their lead.”
While this is good news for those looking for housing or hoping to see Longmont grow into more of a modern city, those who have come to love Longmont’s quiet single-family neighborhoods are frustrated.
Take, for example, the residents surrounding Kimbark Street and Buckley Drive between 19th and 20th avenues. Though they are just a block off of Main Street, the area has been relatively quiet for decades because of the lack of access from Main Street, which they negotiated with the town 25 years ago to limit traffic and congestion.
However, the vacant lot at 1960 Main St., just behind the Burger King and Taco Star, is now planned for a three-story, 44-unit apartment complex. Furthermore, the developer Gary Kinzie has requested the city renege on the agreement with the neighborhood to allow access onto Kimbark Street, the Longmont Planning and Development Services said.
If that access is approved, the neighbors believe the additional traffic it generates will destroy their quiet neighborhood. With the Longmont Fire Department saying it needs two points of access to any property, it appears Kinzie will get his wish.
“None of us care about the additional height or density,” said John Ziegelheim, who lives at 1950 Kimbark St. “We’re just concerned about the traffic. There are a lot of older people in this neighborhood, many of whom are sick, and I worry about them getting around with so much more traffic.
“I just don’t want to feel like a prisoner in my own home. What about my right to quiet enjoyment?”
With Kinzie taking advantage of the new codes that require only one parking space for every unit of affordable housing, as opposed to the 1.75 normally required, the neighbors also are concerned their streets will become a de facto overflow parking lot, which they say could affect their property values.
Kinzie did not respond to requests for comment.
Similar disagreements are occurring all over the city, including at the 1901 Hover St. development, Shadow Grass Apartments (now called Union Pointe Apartments), the new Ludlow Subdivision, and Creekside Silo Apartments.
“Concerns for traffic are universal in my experience,” Elenowitz, the developer, said. “But we think we can meet pent-up housing demand.”
While those who are already established in Longmont are concerned about traffic, those looking for affordable housing, like Ruby Kulpa, a 74-year-old who was recently priced out of her apartment after spending her life savings on a slew of health problems that plagued much of her family, housing can’t be built fast enough. Traffic isn’t even an afterthought.
Having moved to Longmont in 2016 so she could be closer to her doctors after she was diagnosed with cancer for the third time, Kulpa immediately put her name on the waiting lists for all of the subsidized housing projects and affordable senior centers in the area, but demand is so high she’s not sure her name has moved any closer to the top of those lists.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said. “There are a lot of new places being built, but they’re all so expensive. I may have to file for bankruptcy.”
While the new zoning regulations attempt to balance these conflicting ideals of development and conservation, the new codes make it clear that housing, including affordable housing, is a priority.
“Ultimately we need more housing, especially affordable housing” said Erin Fosdick, a long-range planner for Longmont. “We want to make sure that we’re being sensitive to existing neighborhoods and businesses but the community has said during this process that there are some areas they wouldn’t be opposed to changing.”
She noted the existing market is driving these opportunities.
“Right now people have money, have ideas and there’s a lot of growth,” she said. “If that changes, things may change correspondingly.”
John Spina: 303-473-1389, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jsspina24