Caitlin Row
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March 28, 2013
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MORE URBAN, LESS SUBURBAN: City Council approves a new vision for Grand Junction

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - In the future, Grand Junction could be poised for a new look and feel with the approval of the Greater Downtown Plan by City Council last Wednesday, March 20. Council members adopted the plan, 6-1, after hours of presentations, discussion and debate.

The newly adopted plan is meant to impact Grand Junction's future development, including brand-new construction and substantial remodels for existing structures. And it "generally encompasses the original square mile of the city, and the area between the Riverside Neighborhood to 28 Road and South Avenue to the Colorado River," a March 20 meeting document said.

"We've been at this for a really long time," said Harry Weiss, the executive director of the Downtown Development Association (DDA). "There's been lots of participation and input for planning concepts for the downtown."

By adopting the plan, those invested in it (like city officials, planners, and members of the business community) hope it will better guide future developments throughout the area in hopes of creating an economically vibrant, more diverse community with unique characteristics in tune with historic uses.

According to Kathy Portner, who works in the city's economic development sustainability division, goals within the Greater Downtown Plan highlight the preservation of Grand Junction's unique attributes by protecting and enhancing the existing historic areas. It also promotes pedestrian-friendly zones. At last week's meeting, she additionally noted that most new construction is already in line with standards set in the new document.

"Council adopted the plan along with the text and map amendments and the overlays," Weiss said. "So, all of the implementation tools have been authorized."

The next step for the city is to print informational pamphlets to simplify the plan and get the word out.

"Essentially, it becomes effective 30 days from publication," Portner said.

"Within the large planning area, the document identifies three primary districts - the river district, the rail district and downtown," Weiss said. "There are unique sets of characteristics for each area. The plan provides for different treatments and development standards tailored to the different areas."

Other subsections within districts are also identified, like within the downtown area for instance.

"Moving forward, we do want to shift the pattern of development toward a higher level of density," Weiss added.

The Greater Downtown Plan additionally complements the guiding principles of the city's comprehensive plan adopted in 2011, Weiss said - to head away from urban sprawl with an emphasis on directing city growth inward, to create more "in-fill" development (construction on vacant urban areas within the city center), to reinforce what Grand Junction already has, and to promote mixed-use development (a mix of commercial and residential).

It also recommends dealing with future land-use designation and zoning, Portner said at last week's meeting. With the adoption of the comprehensive plan, some of the city's existing zoning was in conflict with future land-use categories. The plan proposes to fix those inconsistencies with future land-use designations and to leave the existing zoning in place.

All owners of parcels impacted by rezoning were notified by letter, she added, and there's been no opposition as of yet.

Another aspect to note: The new plan won't impact renovations to existing buildings in most instances. New standards will only apply to renovations of an existing structure that will increase the size of the building by more than 100 percent.

Weiss added in an email: "Regarding the new two-story minimum height in the core downtown; that requirement applies to new buildings on vacant land. Existing buildings may expand up to 100 percent of their current size (square footage) without triggering that requirement (in essence, an existing property can double in size and not go up). There are also some new architectural design standards which apply to new buildings - for existing buildings undergoing exterior renovations, the new design standards will only apply if the exterior renovation work costs more than 65 percent of the current value of the property, otherwise it is exempt. If a building is undergoing interior renovations, then none of the new standards apply."

While there was both public support for and outcry against the Greater Downtown Plan during the public comment portion of last week's City Council meeting, by the end of the night it appeared that many folks speaking out viewed the plan in a positive light.

Those in favor of it generally said it would help local business, improve the community and protect private-property investments. Those against it said too much regulation and restriction would diminish business in the area. Some people also said the plan encroached on personal property rights.

Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Diane Schwenke addressed commenters who said the Chamber didn't support the plan. Rather, she said the Chamber - which "acts as the voice of local business" - simply wanted its many questions pertaining to the document answered before moving forward.

"The Chamber is not the opposition in this discussion," she said.

City of Grand Junction council members additionally weighed in before voting.

Councilwoman Teresa Coons said building on the unique components of Grand Junction would be beneficial to the community. She also noted that while the plan was likely not perfect, council needed to adopt it now.

"This is a great vision for the future," Bennett Boeschenstein, another councilman, said.

Sam Susuras didn't agree with many components of the document, however.

"I believe in limited government," Susuras said, while noting his belief that the Greater Downtown Plan would diminish property rights.

He added that more input from the entire business community of Grand Junction was needed.

To review the Greater Downtown Plan's many components, visit the City of Grand Junction website: www.gjcity.org/GreaterDowntownAreaPlan.aspx.


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The Post Independent Updated Mar 28, 2013 04:45PM Published Mar 28, 2013 04:40PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.