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Be Careful for What You Wish For…The Red Herring

In the early 1980s, the voters of Wheat Ridge amended the City Charter and approved height and density restrictions in an effort to protect single-family residential neighborhoods from high density, multi-family dwellings.

On August 25, 2008, City Council voted to place three items on the November 2008 ballot including ballot question 2C – A change in the City Charter to take the height and density restrictions completely out of the Charter and have them placed and maintained in the appropriate section of the City Code of Laws and Zoning Codes.  This ballot question was defeated by the voters.

 In November 2009, City Council proposed a compromise and asked the voters to remove the height and density restrictions from the areas in the City that were considered urban renewal areas such as the Wadsworth, I-70 and Kipling corridors, the new Gold Line TOD site in Wheat Ridge (approx 52nd & Ward), among other locations.  This ballot question was approved by the voters.

 For some, this compromise is not enough.  Several members of City staff, Wheat Ridge 2020 and other special interest groups are pushing the City Council to once again ask the voters to completely remove the restrictions from the City Charter.  The City has embraced the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), upgraded its building standards and codes, and has created best practice mixed-use zone districts.  The city has also streamlined and developed land use regulations which are guiding our new residential and commercial developments.  With all these positive changes in place, what is the motive of the proponents who refuse to accept compromise?

 Wheat Ridge is currently experiencing the most new residential development it has seen in 20 years.  New housing stock is being constructed at 38th & Depew St, 41st & Fenton St. 44th & Upham St. (senior housing) and 38th & Simms St.  After these new developments are completed, most of the vacant land in Wheat Ridge will be gone.  The next step would be the redevelopment of distressed housing stock across the City as needed.  Do we really want to see single family neighborhoods completely scraped and large multi-family complexes built in their place? 

I support revitalization efforts in our neighborhoods, such as the Wheat Ridge Housing Authority (WRHA), and do agree that some residential properties need to be scraped and replaced with new market rate housing stock.  However, I don’t support the City of Wheat Ridge becoming the new Glendale of Jefferson County with high density multi-family units replacing our single family homes and large residential lots.  Most people tell me they moved to Wheat Ridge because of the large residential lots and single family neighborhoods.  I haven’t had anyone tell me they bought their home so a developer could build multi-family apartments adjacent to them.  Ironically, most of the people who want to again change the Charter either don’t live in the City, or they live in a single family home with a nice large lot.  Since when did high density multi-family dwellings become a positive for a City our size?  Where’s the data that shows this will benefit Wheat Ridge economically or socially? 

Anecdotal stories from Wheat Ridge 2020, non-visionary developers and real estate brokers are not enough to warrant changes that could jeopardize the quality of life in Wheat RidgeFuture City Councils could approve these types of drastic developments if the Charter protections are removed.

The City Charter was amended by the voters to protect neighborhoods and to create a system of checks and balances on future development and redevelopment in Wheat Ridge.  As an elected official and as a resident, I will oppose any more changes to the Charter with regards to the height and density limitations.  The citizens of Wheat Ridge have spoken on this issue.  Going to the voters for a third time is futile.

To the supporters of removing the height and density limitations from the Charter, I say “be careful what you wish for”.

Below are some excerpts from the Wheat Ridge City Charter with regards to the current height and density limitations.

Charter Sec. 5.10.1. Building height and density limitations.

(a)   Height limitations.  The city shall not, by ordinance, resolution, motion, permit, or other action, or variance except as provided in subsection (e), allow the construction of buildings or other structures which exceed the following maximum heights:

(1)   Thirty-five (35) feet for the following: All residential, planned residential and agricultural districts, including any created after passage of this amendment; residential buildings when built in nonresidential districts; the hospital-one district; and the restricted commercial-one district.

(2)   Fifty (50) feet for the following: Any other commercial, planned commercial, industrial or planned industrial districts; the public buildings and facilities district; commercial and office buildings constructed in the hospital-two district; and any nonresidential district created after passage of this amendment.

(b)   Density Limitations.  The city shall not, by ordinance, resolution, motion, variance, permit or other action, allow the construction of residential buildings in any zone district which exceed a maximum of twenty-one (21) family units per acre, except that nursing homes shall not be required to meet this density maximum.