Downtown Development – Dichotomy, Diversity, Duplicity

Tonight the Grand Junction City Council will consider a zoning change in the Downtown area, what is called an overlay zone in the area known as the 7th Street Historic Residential District.

This past June, Council approved an application for a Bed and Breakfast in the Historic District, much to the chagrin of several homeowners there who believe that a 1984 plan establishing the district, and maintain single-family residential zoning in the area, was not being honored. The City responded that the agreement was not incorporated into the current Zoning and Development Code, and therefore had no bearing on the B&B or future development applications. Visions of Rose Mary Woods and the 17-minute gap were in my head when I heard this.

As very competently reported by Mike Wiggins in this past Saturday’s Sentinel, the owners of these homes are loading up their inflatable turkeys and preparing to do battle.

As a resident of the Downtown, I enjoy the diversity of the community and the uniqueness of what has been done with many properties. I welcome some of the changes that are proposed for my corner of Downtown, which include multi-use structures for business and residential use. I also thought that a B&B on 7th Street was not a harmful or inappropriate use of the property involved, and I said so in June. I still believe that today.

However, the proposed changes that the City is considering would establish a process for approving applications that does not include enough opportunity for public comment before an application is approved. Adequate publication and solicitation of comment are essential components of any process that manages the alteration of the landscape of any neighborhood.

Additionally, I believe that the 8 property owners who have secured legal representation over the absence of any enforcement of the 1984 plan have a point. If their assertions bear any weight of truth at all, I believe that they are being disenfranchised, and that the plan ‘preserving’ the historic character of their neighborhood has been conveniently set aside by the City in a bit of procedural legerdemain. I also believe that they are prepared to sue the City if necessary.

I attended a community meeting on August 29 at what was once Washington Park (it’s now owned by District 51), and heard this and many other concerns voiced to the organizers, as well as City Planning and Public Works Director Tim Moore, who was solidly engaged in the proceedings and very professional in his approach.

Some residents are very concerned about so-called “transition zones” that abut their properties proximal to the North Avenue commercial corridor. These could conceivably allow for commercial structures to be built alongside their residential property. Yeah, they’re right.

Other voices at the meeting voiced opposition, if not animosity, toward the presence of any multi-family housing going up in areas close to the 7th Street corridor and elsewhere. Some of these comments, as well as comments about “what kind of people” would frequent the recently approved B&B, smacked of classism to me, and I called at least one person on it.

As much as the residents of the historic district may have a case against the City for the way they have been treated, those kinds of attitudes did not endear some of them to me, and threaten to derail any meaningful discussion of a development issue before it begins. To me it sounds like someone yelling about death panels at a meeting about health care reform.

I’m at school in Denver, otherwise I’d be there tonight. Even with as much thought and research that has gone into these proposals, they need to go back to the Planning department for some re-tooling, and the City owes at least an explanation, if not more, to those it made a commitment to in 1984.

Have a good week ahead.

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