Durango’s land-use codes are so stringent that they preclude a new coffee shop from opening in the busy commercial corridor along College Drive, a planning consultant noted at a public hearing Wednesday.
The problem is that the city’s land-use codes have been amended more than a hundred times since they were created in the 1980s. The rules have become contradictory. The system of zoning is imploding on itself, said Todd Messenger, an Aurora-based consultant who is helping the city to rewrite its development rules.
Messenger is trying to simplify the process so new projects can be approved without asking for a lot of exceptions or variances to city codes, he said.
The commercial corridor of College Drive, for example, is currently regulated according to the same zoning rules that apply to the Durango Mall and Walmart. Under a new zoning proposal, College Drive would be reclassified as a mixed-use neighborhood with fewer parking requirements and allowances for apartments or condominiums above retail shops.
There are mixed retail and residential buildings on College Drive, but developers must jump through “hoops” to get permission to build them, officials said.
So the revisions to the zoning rules are supposed to reflect current land use, officials said.
Messenger views his job as “cleanup,” he said.
As another example of contradictions in the current system, the city’s only industrial zone is the rail yard, while the industrial area of Bodo Industrial Park is classified as “heavy commercial,” Messenger said.
During the public hearing at the Durango Community Recreation Center, city planning officials went to lengths to assure residents that regulations will still be in place to protect the character of existing neighborhoods and business districts.
Established neighborhood designations are not changing, but the city is considering adding the Hillcrest area as another established neighborhood as well as creating a new land-use code for multi-family properties, such as apartments or condominiums.
Still, the proposed changes have some residents nervous that the city is being driven by real-estate and economic-development interests.
In particular, some speakers at Tuesday’s hearing opposed proposals that would allow more accessory dwelling units or mother-in-law apartments in the older neighborhoods east of downtown and along north Main Avenue, which they fear would lead to over-crowding, congestion and parking problems.
Martha McClellan said she did not think the City Council was listening to the public especially since its study session on Tuesday did not take public input.
Tom Darnell said he would like to see City Council meetings where councilors have an open dialogue with the public.
David McHenry said the city should do a scientific survey to get community input before allowing more accessory dwellings. He thinks the city won’t do it because it would be afraid of the results.
Greg Hoch, the city’s senior planner, said there will be more meetings, and opportunities for public input before the end of the year.
Messenger promised that the city would post the proposed regulatory changes online as well as give opportunity for public comment.