PlanCOS laid out a vision for the future of Colorado Springs. Now RetoolCOS is honing the tools to achieve it.
PlanCOS focuses upon six themes that embody the city’s existing strengths — vibrant neighborhoods, unique places, a thriving economy, strong connections, renowned culture and majestic landscapes — and envisions how the city can build upon them to accommodate future growth.
RetoolCOS is the next step, Colorado Springs Planning and Development Director Peter Wysocki said.
Through another public process, the city is revising its zoning and subdivision ordinance, Chapter 7 of the City Code.
The ordinance lays out rules for the use of property, including regulations about building height, setbacks and parking requirements. It also prescribes procedures for subdividing and developing property.
“What we’re doing now is really looking at the entire zoning and subdivision code holistically,” Wysocki said. “PlanCOS is very inspirational and more policy- and goal-oriented. We will be diving into the very detailed aspects of development review procedures … to implement the comprehensive plan.”
UPDATING THE CODE
To accomplish the code revisions, the city has hired Clarion Associates, a Denver-based land use consulting firm, and appointed an advisory committee that includes members from the housing, building and development industries as well as citizen and neighborhood representatives and city officials. They will be assisted by a technical committee composed of city staff members who are involved in the development review process.
Over the next 12-14 months, this team will be going through the lengthy zoning and subdivision ordinance, sentence by sentence and word by word. The goal, Wysocki said, is to have a new, modern, unified development code adopted by April 2021.
Part of the job will be to update the code, which hasn’t been comprehensively revised since the late 1990s, and make it more user-friendly.
“The vernacular of development has changed over the years,” Wysocki said. “It needs a refresh to make sure that it’s internally consistent, well organized and easy to read, not just by the businesses that are the primary users, but also homeowners.”
Whether the users are developers proposing a new subdivision or homeowners who want to build a deck or shed, they should be able to easily find the regulations that apply.
“We’re going to try to modernize it by using more graphics to explain the different standards,” Wysocki said. “We want to make sure that this code is web-based and easy to navigate and use.”
Streamlining the code so that standards aren’t duplicated in various parts of the chapter will help.
“There will be only one section on the public hearing process, and an application that requires a public hearing just refers to that,” Wysocki said.
LOOKING AT LAND USES
Although it’s too early in the process to pinpoint exactly where changes to the code will take place, Wysocki said that the development review process will certainly get a lot of scrutiny.
“Our code is, I think, currently pretty well balanced, with some land uses requiring public hearings and some being permitted by rights, meaning they do not have to go to public hearings,” he said. “For example, building an office building [in] commercial zoning, is a permitted use. It goes through a development plan, and it’s administratively reviewed, but nonetheless, we provide basically the same public notification as if it were going to a public hearing. We want to evaluate and make sure that that process is as well defined and as fair as possible.”
The team will also look at development standards like building heights, parking and landscaping.
“I’m sure there’ll be discussion on some level of building design or settings of large-scale commercial subdivisions and neighborhoods,” he said.
But the team will do more than weigh and modify the nuts and bolts of current processes and standards. It will also look at permissible uses within the various zoning districts, in accordance with PlanCOS.
“PlanCOS supports a vision of unique places, unique and vibrant neighborhoods and mixed uses,” Wysocki said. “So we want to make sure that, as an example, if a commercial center wants to construct a building that incorporates some residential and some commercial, that is permissible — to make sure that the barriers are removed as much as possible.”
A significant number of projects come before the planning commission or city council “that were not even foreseen 30 years ago, like the smaller-lot subdivisions where there’s a common open area,” he said. “So we want to make sure that our zoning ordinance and subdivision standards appropriately address the current development preferences and consumer preferences.”
Throughout the country, demographics are changing, he said. While some people still want a 4,000-square-foot home on a 10,000-square-foot lot, not everyone does.
“We want to make sure that we are prepared and we have the tools in place … that enable landowners and businesses to do more creative designs and land patterns that meet the needs of the business community and consumers, as well as to implement the overall vision of how we’re maturing as a half a million population.”
STEERING THE PROCESS
Wysocki said consultants with Clarion Associates are preparing a diagnosis of the ordinance after interviewing a number of stakeholders, including several council members and frequent users of the code.
Clarion will be drafting new language for the ordinance that will be reviewed by the steering committee and also will be available for public review.
“We will have our steering committee meet to ensure that we’re staying between the bookends that PlanCOS and stakeholder organizations have established,” he said.
City Councilor Jill Gaebler, who co-chaired the steering committee for PlanCOS, is also a member of the RetoolCOS steering committee.
“I asked to be on this steering committee because PlanCOS is the overarching guide for what we want our city to look like for the next 20-25 years,” Gaebler said. “RetoolCOS is really putting the teeth into that — changing regulations and hopefully, in my case, reducing regulations so that it’s easier to create the city that we envision in PlanCOS.”
Gaebler said the steering committee members represent a wide range of issues they want to address.
“That’s where it becomes difficult,” she said. “It’ll be interesting.”
She said one of the issues she wants to discuss is “how our land use can be changed so that we can better and more easily build affordable housing — denser neighborhoods so that we can house more people.
“Right now, 70 percent of our residential area in Colorado Springs is single-family zoning,” she said. “I believe it’s important for us to modify our code to make it easier for us to build other types of housing in single-family zoning areas and moving into the new parts of the city.”
Gaebler said she helped put together an infill and redevelopment plan that predated PlanCOS. That plan recommended adding more density to single-family zoning and also considering more mixed-use development.
“Mixed-use types of opportunities to put stores and other types of small retail and commercial into residential areas promote walking, biking and alternative modes of transportation, and that’s how we used to build,” she said.
Gaebler also wants to address the city’s landscape code “so we can hold the developers’ feet to the fire a little more, planting trees that are good for our high-desert area, more types of trees and new trees. Part of that is enforcing our current landscape ordinance and enhancing that.”
Jason Alwine, senior landscape architect with planning, engineering and consulting firm Matrix Design, is also a member of the steering committee.
Alwine said he looks forward to participating in a collaborative approach to updating the zoning and subdivision code.
“There’s a lot of folks involved … who really value what this community stands for,” he said. “I think what I like about the steering committee is that those involved are invested and are willing to put the time and energy it’s going to take to see this through.”
SEEKING PUBLIC INPUT
“There are a lot of check-in points for city council to review the draft as it goes forward, and I am quite certain there will be opportunities for citizen involvement. That’s part of the consultants’ work — to provide those opportunities,” Gaebler said. Council will vote on all ordinances that will ultimately change the city code.
Draft sections of the code will be available for public review on the city’s website at coloradosprings.gov/retoolcos.
“We will also be presenting regular updates to city council starting in February,” Wysocki said, adding that he wants to hear from the business community and residents as the code is released, “so that everybody can support the final adoption.”