A primer on pacing: Westminster’s growth management plan

Cross Currents, a column by Bill Christopher
Posted 10/9/19

I’ve written before about cities and counties in the northwest quadrant of the Denver metro area not having growth management plans or controls. I said that Westminster was included in my statement …

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A primer on pacing: Westminster’s growth management plan


I’ve written before about cities and counties in the northwest quadrant of the Denver metro area not having growth management plans or controls.

I said that Westminster was included in my statement and Westminster city staff challenged my statement, contending the City’s Comprehensive Plan controls growth.

So, I met with city planners and ultimately, we agreed to disagree.

What is important here is not the verbiage or semantics, but the substance or end objective and result: From my experience and perspective, growth management curtails new development by both volume and pacing.

The city’s plan calls for the availability of 5,556 new residential units to the year 2035. They tell me that sufficient development criteria/design standards in the Comprehensive Plan must be met as well as City Council approval where applicable in order to gain approval to secure service commitments, building permits and water and sewer taps.

That handles the volume, but what about the pacing?

An open ended growth control plan

So, Westminster has a growth management plan based on the addition of 5,556 dwelling units through 2035.

Assuming the individual development proposal meets at least the minimum design standards, building materials, square footage and so forth and the proposal obtains city council approval, the development will be able to secure all the necessary authorizations and proceed to develop their site.

That approach tells me it is a “first come, first served” approach which is open-ended to the amount of new dwelling units approved in any given year. There is not a set limit of dwelling units per year.

The one constraint city staff confirmed based on my questioning is the assumption that the city has sufficient water resources to serve the subject development. If there are not sufficient water resources, the development application would be denied.

Also, city staff confirmed that the city does not have sufficient water resources today for the full 5,556 referenced dwelling units, but that the city will obtain additional water resources over time to cover all of them. They did not indicate the extent of water resources that the city currently controls to award to current developments being processed.

No pacing of new growth is in city’s plan

While this approach is inviting to the development community, it leaves the community wide open to a “whatever the market will bear” approach. It could result in something along the line of a boom or bust situation.

Another way to put it is that the volume and pacing of new residential construction is solely determined by the developers. The existing community has no say - and no protection from a potential glut of new housing.

Another key consideration is the water resources component of growth management plans at least in Colorado. While the 5,556 units referenced in the Comprehensive Plan is assumed to stretch out to 2035 and give the city time to acquire more water, a hot residential market could exacerbate those plans and consume most or all of the additional unencumbered water resources long before 2035. If that were to happen, new development would come to a screeching halt and negatively impact city revenues and the city’s reputation.

Again, that is why pacing is critical in any growth management plan.

Limited land and water resources in the future

Yet another issue with the city’s current open-ended plan is the shrinking amount of available, developable land within Westminster’s city limits. As I mentioned in last week’s column, city planners confirmed that there are 1,066 acres left for new development.

Out of a land area of 34 square miles, the 1,066 acres equals approximately 5%. That means a mere five percent of Westminster’s land area is left to be developed. That is very disturbing.

So, we can summarize that our community currently has limited water resources to serve some unknown amount of new development, but less than 5,556 residential units per staff’s comments.

Our community only has approximately 5% of its land inventory still available for new development. These two basic “tangibles” for new development are being consumed at a pace which clearly will not be sustained to the year 2035.

Let’s assume 1,000 dwelling units per year are approved to make my point. The entire 5,556 units would be consumed in less than six years. There are 16 years between now and 2035. That planning assumption would leave the city without any new development after 2025 and while assuming that additional water could be found and purchased to cover the 5,556 units.

Needless to say, such a planning approach is risky.

How quickly will 5,556 dwelling units be in place?

So far in 2019, 296 dwelling units had been permitted and eligible for water and sewer taps.

Then St. Mark’s Church parcel was approved by City Council on September 10th allowing 216 more apartments. According to city planners, another 731 dwelling units are in various stages of review and approval without counting the 2,350 housing units contemplated in the Pillar of Fire (POF) property.

Plus, it should be noted that the POF developer projects buildout over 10-20 years. So, even WITHOUT the Pillar of Fire development proposal, the city will easily experience more than 1,240 additional dwelling units for calendar year 2019 or slightly into 2020.

Folks, there are “red flags” all over this open-ended Growth Management Plan.

Do you want this plan to continue? Even though there are signs of the Colorado economy perhaps softening, a workable, effective plan that protects the community and its resources, but still allows a certain amount of new development via the approval process is very much needed.

Worsening traffic congestion without a solution

Finally, we need to look at the impacts of all of this market-driven development. All of us are well aware of the worsening traffic conditions on our highways, roads and streets throughout the Denver metro area. More and more roads are bumper to bumper more often and rush hour keeps expanding.

Some of these highways, roads and streets are the responsibility of CDOT while others are under Westminster’s control. Neither entity has the kind of funding to begin to play “catch-up” with road expansions, new roads and timely needed maintenance.

So, we are faced with more people, more vehicles, more apartments other housing construction and more traffic congestion without a solution by the present city leaders.

Maybe it’s time to move to Estes Park!

Status quo versus change

Next week, the county clerks’ offices will begin mailing out the ballots for the November 5th election. There are eight choices among Westminster City Council candidates for three seats. Find out who supports “status quo” and who supports “change” on growth issues. Then make your important choices for the future.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.


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