New construction is pictured Wednesday on E. Elm Street in Lafayette. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)
New development in Lafayette’s Old Town neighborhoods will be waylaid for the next three months as officials weigh an overhaul of the district’s zoning codes.
The 90-day moratorium, approved by City Council on Wednesday night as an emergency ordinance, will take effect immediately, according to city code.
The decision comes two weeks before council is scheduled to consider a bundle of new regulations aimed at revamping the district’s building regulations — the culmination of a monthslong public outreach process. It also was just days after City Council — with the exception of Mayor Christine Berg and City Administrator Gary Klaphake, who drafted the ordinance — first learned it would be asked to vote on such a measure.
The embargo’s abrupt rollout serves a purpose conceptually, officials argued amid backlash Wednesday; the moratorium would preempt a flood of building applications ahead of the expected code changes.
“Customarily,” Klaphake said Wednesday, “cities pass moratoriums when they worry (that) regulations are coming down and everyone’s trying to get in under the wire.
“You’re either going to have a plethora of people saying, ‘You caught me off guard; I can’t do my development,’ or, ‘How did you let this happen? You let people sneak in under the wire.'”
Officially, the ordinance will bar any new applications of “building structures, and significant additions to existing structures” within the district from being processed, according to the ordinance’s language, similar to last year’s ill-fated, nine-month-long construction embargo.
Despite the freeze on applications over the next few months, exceptions in the process exist. Those seeking an exemption from the moratorium to build on their property must submit a letter detailing their project and what “undue, substantial hardship” they would suffer without it.
The exemption process will also be significantly expedited under the amendment, one that allows for such requests to be heard by council quicker.
In Lafayette, the mea culpa did little to quell residents’ frustration.
Some raged against the moratorium’s potential impact on their development plans; one citizen in attendance suggested the development stay would cost him $35,000 to $40,000. At least one invoked prayer.
A graphic illustrates the areas of Lafayette’s Old Town neighborhoods that would be impacted by the potential zoning code changes.
“I prayed before I got up here tonight for the strength to say what I need to say,” resident Darla Walton told council. “I prayed for the patience to understand the action you are proposing. I’m not a businesswoman; this is not a commercial venture, this is supposed to be my home.
“I have lived all over the county but I chose Lafayette to grow old in,” she continued. “I appreciate the history and charm of small towns; I honestly believe this ordinance is not aimed at me, but it casts too wide of a net.”
Efforts to stave off redevelopment in Old Town’s residential sections have been amplified in the face of Boulder County’s population boom; growth that calls for more dense, multi-family living, labeled by some locals as ” urban sprawl.” Those areas include the cluster of homes surrounding S. Public and Baseline roads that have long served as an emblem of the city’s roots.
Just outside the district’s borders, however, signs of growth abound. Lafayette — and east Boulder County in general — have seen a population boom converge from the spillover between the city of Boulder and the metro area.
Between 2009 and 2016, the city gained 1,362 dwellings. and hundreds more are on the way.
Lafayette officials have approved a string of development plans in recent months aimed at ushering in large-scale, affordable housing, including the SoLa Subdivision, slated to bring 260 units to the city’s southern edge, and a $3.5 million, 24-acre land deal with Flatirons Community Church with plans for up to 500 units.
The results of such growth have begun to seep into the city’s historic Old Town, locals argue, pointing to an uptick in demolitions and redevelopment, replacing the old with new structures that loom tall over neighbors.
“There’s an urgency to what is happening in Old Town,” Berg said Wednesday. “This conversation is very nuanced; it’s about people’s personal stories.
“(The process) is in overdrive now,” she added. “Our Old Town is not that big and things are happening really quickly. It’s now an opportunity for us to provide some leadership on this issue.”
By August, according to Rebecca Schwendler, the chairwoman of the city’s Historic Preservation Board, the committee will conduct its ninth demolition review of the year.
It’s the most since conducting six in all of 2015.
An initial backlash last summer spurred by plans for a duplex in the heart of Old Town may have served as the original catalyst for such zoning code changes, according to residents.
The changes proposed under the potential code revamping — including regulations for infill on vacant lots and general redevelopment, plus additions to existing buildings for Old Town properties — are slated to arrive in front of council at the city’s July 18 meeting.
Anthony Hahn: 303-473-1422, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/_anthonyhahn