“It’s just sort of become a mess.”
That’s how Cory Miller, Golden’s long term city planner, describes the city’s zoning code, which is theoretically supposed to provide a blueprint for how and where the city can develop.
But at a time when Golden is confronting new pressures as the population of the Front Range booms and developers seek to build new housing for all the new arrivals, residents, developers and city staff all came to agree that the existing code was no longer fulfilling its intended function.
“Developers can’t get strong intent statements out of the code and don’t really know what is regulated and they have to cross-reference several different sections,” Miller said. “It ends up being most of the time that when a development goes through it goes to the planning commission and then there is this weird negotiating process that occurs when really that shouldn’t happen. The code should be clear, it should be legible and people should know how to use it.”
Then there is the issue of the age of the code, which Miller said was written at a time when different types of development were popular in Golden, which was facing different issues then it is today.
“I think the type of development the county would like to see isn’t properly reflected in the code,” he said.
So, after years of confronting concerns and complaints about those issues, the city recently decided it was past time to undertake a process to fully audit and revamp the code in order to make it align with the vision Golden’s current residents have for its future.
First, however, the city had to figure what residents and other stakeholders actually wanted from a zoning code — and how those desires differed from the existing code.
The city selected a group of consultants consisting of representatives of three architecture and urban design firms in 2019 to analyze the city’s existing code and built environment and interview stakeholders in order to create a diagnostic report presenting those issues.
That report, released in May, outlines several major issues with the code that fall into three main categories: issues with the review process, issues with the navigability of the code and issues with maintaining community character.
Specific issues mentioned include an “inability to regenerate the `small town character in new neighborhoods,” “parking requirements that discourage and prevent small businesses,” “a lack of supporting visuals in the code,” and “public works and building departments are not on the same page with the planning department in terms of significant items.”
In response to those issues, the project team also proposed the creation of new zone districts that will better calibrate the regulations found in the code with the development goals of the city.
“These new zones districts will ensure that new construction is appropriately scaled to Golden’s character in different areas of the city,” according to a statement from the city posted on Guiding Golden.
“It will also clean up the navigational issues by consolidating older sections in one better organized area of the zoning code and trimming the excess language that is no longer required. Finally, the new zone districts will be rewritten so that they are legible for the modern-day users of the code, and images, tables and diagrams will be added to further assist the user.”
But before the team fully turns to the rewrite portion of the process, it is seeking input from the community in the form of surveys about various aspects of the code that are now available on the Guiding Golden website.
In addition, the city has also launched an effort called Golden Building Blocks that asks residents to take photos of structures or other elements of the city that they believe exemplify the character of Golden they want the city to maintain. Residents can also leave comments about the diagnostic report.
Residents have commented on issues ranging from support for the effort to concerns about its ramifications — and it seems not everyone is happy with the process so far.
Commenter Terri Hamilton said expressed appreciation for the issues raised by the report and hopes the city will delve into them. However, Hamilton also expressed concern about how the city could change its regulations around parking.
“Not providing adequate parking is bad for business, livability and land values,” Hamliton wrote. “Codes and incentives should not under-provide for parking. If developers don’t pay for it upfront, the community pays for it later- in one way or another.”
A commenter identified as justinr meanwhile, described the audit report as “frightening” and “overreaching.”
“This report essentially says to me you are going to completely reorganize the current zoning and start to clamp down design principles to fit a completely new mold and limit any future building on my properties,” justinr wrote. `
The zoning code rewrite process is scheduled to last through the spring with project team presenting a new draft of a zoning code in November. However, Miller said the process is being extended as a result of COVID-19.