Mixed-use redevelopment envisioned in new comp plan
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – When it comes to future redevelopment of some of Glenwood’s existing commercial centers, the revised city comprehensive plan envisions a mix of uses beyond just retail to include office space and housing.
“Many of these commercial centers were developed years ago in a ‘strip mall’ style of development, with large parking lots between the building and the public street,” as noted in the “Community Character and Form” chapter of the city’s draft 2011 Revised Comprehensive Plan.
That includes such properties as the City Market and Safeway grocery stores along Grand Avenue, the Roaring Fork Marketplace, which holds Wal-Mart and American Furniture Warehouse, and the Glenwood Springs Mall in West Glenwood.
“As property values and retailing trends have changed, these shopping centers are seen as opportune locations for mixed-use neighborhoods that include retail, offices and housing,” the document states.
The plan, which updates many of the same goals contained in the existing 1998 Comprehensive Plan with new objectives and policies, is being considered for formal adoption by the Glenwood Springs City Council at its March 17 meeting.
“This comprehensive plan envisions that these … commercial centers redevelop into mixed-use neighborhoods – with a significant housing component,” the plan states. “This will allow Glenwood Springs to offer a wide range of housing types from townhouses and condominiums to apartments over shops and offices.”
The plan encourages mixed-used development for other parts of the city as well, including the confluence area west of downtown and the area north of the Glenwood Springs Mall.
City council will hold the last of three public hearings on the draft comprehensive plan at its March 17 meeting.
Some developers and a few citizens who commented at a March 3 meeting view the plan and its vision for future development as overly idealistic, and impractical in the current economy.
“The mixed-use development concept is widely embraced by planners, but it’s not cost-effective for developers,” said Mike Maple of Aspen, who has been involved with the Glenwood Meadows project.
The Meadows is to eventually include a mixed-use component, but thus far has not been able to proceed with that portion of the development.
“Any mixed-use development in this market will likely stumble and fail,” he said.
Meadows developer Robert Macgregor added that “horizontal,” or more spread-out, mixed-use developments are possible.
“But not vertical,” he said in reference to suggestion in the proposed comprehensive plan that redevelopment could include four- to five-story buildings with residential units above commercial uses.
“Mixed use sounds good, but it’s very difficult to make work in practice,” Macgregor said, adding locals need only look as far as the Willits development in Basalt as an example.
“The sad reality is that it has failed miserably,” Macgregor said.
Glenwood Springs Planning and Zoning Commission member Michael Blair took exception to the assertion that the concept of mixed-use development comes strictly from professional planners.
“We did have a lot of public input from common, ordinary citizens,” he said, adding that the very purpose of a comprehensive plan is that it contain ideals.
Council members said the plan simply makes suggestions about future development, rather than dictating how it should occur.
“Nothing in here compels mixed-use development, it just says that it’s desirable,” councilman Russ Arensman said. “If there’s not a market for it, it won’t happen.”
Several members of the public have also commented on the stated “advisory” nature of the comprehensive plan versus what some see as a “regulatory” plan.
“Too many things tend to become law, even though it’s in an advisory document,” Glenwood Springs-area resident Chris Janusz said. “You [council] need to maintain the authority to make those regulatory decisions.”
Some of the language in the city’s land-use code suggests a regulatory component to the comp plan. For instance, a required finding for annexation and planned unit development applications is that they be in compliance with the comprehensive plan, noted Andrew McGregor, Glenwood Springs community development director.
“It’s not gospel,” Councilman Matt Steckler said of the comprehensive plan. “At the end of the day, this is an advisory document.”
“Then why are we bothering?” responded Mayor Bruce Christensen, if a development application can’t be denied based on the stated goals and objectives of the comprehensive plan.
“Just because it’s advisory doesn’t mean the comprehensive plan shouldn’t be respected,” said Councilman Arensman. “It is an important document.”
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