Planning Commission Hears Testimony on Loosening Standards for Woodland Station Development

Rear view of the Midland RR Station in Woodland Park Photo by CR Chambers

~ by Bob Volpe ~

The main topic at last week’s regular meeting of the Woodland Park Planning Commission was a work session to hear testimony from city staff and representatives of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) on a proposed city ordinance, aimed at killing the DDA design review committee.

Plus, the changes would allow residential construction on the ground floor of any development of Woodland Station. The ordinance would eliminate language in the Woodland Station Overlay District that requires developers to submit plans to develop Woodland Station to the DDA for a design review, and instead would send plans to the city planning department.

At the June 26 city council meeting, the ordinance was read on initial posting, and was defeated by a vote of 4-3. This was an odd development. Normally an ordinance on initial posting is rubber stamped
and scheduled for a public hearing. Council members Noel Sawyer, Hillary LaBarre and Paul Saunier and Mayor Pro Tem Val Carr all voted to kill the ordinance.

In an even odder occurrence, council then approved a motion 4-3 to send the proposed ordinance change to the planning commission for review and more information. Sawyer relented to the majority in this vote.

The city defended the ordinance at the commission hearing, stating that it would “provide additional flexibility and remove potential obstacles to development of the property.” It would also pave the way
for building residential units on the ground floor of potential development of the property.

This housing provision brought about much discussion among planning commissioners. Under the provision, residential units on the ground level would be allowed as a permitted use and would be exempt from a public hearing before council. City Planning Director Sally Riley told the board that under a permitted use issue, the property would be posted and a 15-day comment period would then follow for citizen reaction. This would be the only public comment that would be

Planning Commission Member Ken Hartsfield suggested changing the residential provision to a conditional use, which would require a public hearing at city council on a given project proposal. This met with great agreement among board members.

According to city staff, the ordinance would remove redundancy in the process to develop Woodland Station and in posing additional burdens on potential developers. The current process requires that “building and improvement designs must be submitted to the DDA’s design review committee for approval prior to construction.” The city wants to take over that process.

DDA Chairperson Merry Jo Larsen spoke in opposition to the ordinance.  Larsen believes the ordinance isn’t necessary and that the DDA has been reviewing many of their procedures, and just needs more time to review the current design review committee’s wording.

DDA Board Member Jerry Good was upset over the ordinance. He said the DDA was not adequately included in the drafting of the ordinance and the timing of its introduction was a bad move. Good also objected to a comment made by Riley that members of the DDA board were not experts
in the construction application process. City Manager Darrin Tangeman replied to Good’s comments.  He said, “I do want to apologize to the DDA for the way this ordinance came about. It was requested by city
council and city staff put it together. I don’t think city council is kicking the DDA. I do think they could have done a better job working with the DDA.”

After the meeting, DDA Treasurer Tanner Coy spoke to the media about what he thought were inaccurate statements made by city staff on several of the points of their presentation. Several members of city staff stayed to listen to Coy’s comments, and this led to a somewhat heated, but brief kerfuffle.

The argument ended abruptly when the lights were turned off and everyone was kicked out.  Coy submitted a letter to the editor to TMJ News to air his grievances.

At the conclusion of the work session, the board was asked to put their suggestions on alterations to the ordinance in writing and submit them to city staff. Planning Commission Chairman Jon DeVaux
said after hearing a synopsis of the board members comments and suggestions, he didn’t care if this took months and several more work sessions to iron out the details. He said, “We want to get this

The next work session on the issue is scheduled for August 11 in city council chambers.