Three controversial land-use changes are off the table for the time being after Thornton Councilors approved a new comprehensive plan July 14. Councilors removed plans to allow housing developments …
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Three controversial land-use changes are off the table for the time being after Thornton Councilors approved a new comprehensive plan July 14.
Councilors removed plans to allow housing developments in the Thornton Shopping Center area at 88th and Washington and south of King Ranch at 120th and Quebec after five hours of public comments on the plan.
“Do we want commercial there, or do we want to leave it open?” Councilor Sam Nizam said regarding the King Ranch proposal. “We don’t have a plan to look at, nothing from the developer there. The comp plan is basically just a map right now, so if we get a plan from the developer now we can discuss it then.”
Similarly, councilors stripped a proposal to shift the defined land use along Highway 7 and York Street, agreeing to keep it zoned for residential uses.
City officials began rewriting the comprehensive plan in 2018. The city currently uses a plan written in 2012.
The plan combines studies of several aspects of municipal government, from economic development and city finance to zoning and utilities, police, fire, parks, open space and population. It’s designed to sketch out where the city stands currently and offer a plan for how the city wants to look in the next 10 to 20 years.
“A comprehensive plan is meant to be an aspirational document,” said Glenda Lainis, Thornton’s policy planning manager. “It outlines the city’s long term vision for the future. The plan aims high, but does not indicate exactly what the city is going to look like in the future.”
As a planning document, it’s meant to guide future decisions for the City Council and city staff as well as the Development Permits and Appeals Board and other city boards and commissions. But the changes it recommends are not settled and must be adopted after a formal city process, like a zoning change.
“The intent is to provide guidance and examples to help move closer to what the community’s long term vision is,” Lainis said. “Achieving those goals relied on decision-making by City Council and implementation by city staff and many other local partners.”
Work on the first phase involved multiple city meetings and planning events beginning in December 2018. Those included 15 community and neighborhood meetings, presentations to senior centers and high school classes, interviews, surveys and comments at booths set up at community events, like Thorntonfest and the Harvest Fest in 2019 and several ice cream socials.
The first draft of the plan was released a year ago, and residents, staff and councilors have been meeting to tweak it. At the most recent planning meeting in May, councilors approved changing the definition land at the Northeast corner of 120th and Quebec, just south of the King Ranch subdivision. It’s currently zoned for commercial development and changing the land use definition to mixed-use development would have let the owner begin working to build higher-density housing, something councilors agree the city needs.
“I support the idea of balanced housing,” Councilor Jacque Phillips said. “Ward 1, in the southern part of our city, is the only Ward where the majority of our housing is not single-family housing. I really want some balance, I want multi-family housing, that high-density housing, to come in north of 120th and I feel strongly about that.”
But neighbors argued against the plan.
“Mixed-use is a mixed bag. By definition, you never know what you are going to end up with,” King Ranch resident Robert Watson. “The goal of the developer is high-density housing and this just does not meet the criteria laid out in the original comprehensive plan and does not provide the commercial development this area needs and specified in the original comp plan. Worse yet, it would prohibit future commercial development in the area.”
Councilors agreed, with Phillips agreeing with the residents. Other councilors followed suit.
“I, too, am a fan of mixed-use development — I think it’s important to spread it around the city,” Councilor Julia Marvin said. “But it sounds like if we keep these properties as commercial, there is an opportunity for developers to come in with a mixed-use plan. We can change it then.”
Councilors made similar concessions to two other parcels. On the Thornton Shopping Center parcel along 88th and Washington, the council agreed to leave it defined as commercial. The lot has fallen on hard times since it opened in 1955 when it was home to a Woolworth’s and family grocer Miller’s Market. It’s also been home to several dry cleaners over the years, and one of them improperly stored some of their key chemicals, namely PERC or perchloroethylene. That’s a chemical degreaser that can cause short-term dizziness and nausea as well as skin irritation. Long-term exposure can cause changes to mood and memory and has been linked to cancer.
The state is currently reviewing a clean-up and mitigation plan there.
John Cody, Thornton’s deputy economic development director, said that decision should not hurt redevelopment chances for the shopping center.
“It just means that future land use designation is going to remain commercial for now and that council’s preferences, for the time being, is for the redevelopment of the Thornton Shopping Center to be commercial,” Cody said. “What the actual redevelopment there depends on the development appetite from the private sector and the willingness of the city council ultimately turns out.”
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