Tyler Gibbs: Transparency begins long before project gets to council
In its editorial, “City planning should be transparent,” the newspaper rightly supports our community’s commitment to open and accessible processes in the approval of new development. However, it may perpetuate the misconception that this transparency is all about one hearing at City Council.
Transparency and public engagement begin long before a project reaches City Council. Council reviews projects against the rules and regulations established in the Community Development Code. This code establishes what uses are allowed in every area of town, as well as the allowed size, required parking and many other aspects of development. City staff and Planning Commission use the same code in their review prior to the council hearing.
Throughout this process the public is informed of proposed development through the city’s website, newspaper notices and on-site postings.
City Council adopts the CDC through a public process in response to goals identified in the community’s long-range planning processes. These publicly adopted plans, such as the Area Community Plan — jointly approved with the county in 2004 — and the new Downtown Plan are the results of many public workshops, community surveys and hours of vetting the community’s priorities through public hearings. In Colorado, plans are advisory, hence the need to adopt key provisions into code.
Plans and all resulting regulations are available online and in the planning office. Research shows, for example, that the proposed hotel on Pine Grove Road is on property that has been zoned for that type and size use since at least 1989.
Because plans and codes cannot anticipate every possibility, there are times when a development may propose to vary from the code. Consideration of variances rightly go to council because they are asking for a change to the adopted rules.
Many communities do not require projects that substantially conform to the code to go to City Council. Conforming projects are correctly expected to be approved; just as one wouldn’t expect to be stopped if you’re driving the speed limit in a properly licensed vehicle.
Some argue that by requiring all development proposals to go to council, we inadvertently encourage requests for variances because the time and expense of going to council must be expended anyway.
It is important for citizens to realize that shaping the future of our community and determining the form of new development begins long before a project appears on a council agenda. It is paramount for those concerned about these issues to participate in ensuring that our long-range plans are up to date and that our development codes reflect that vision.
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