The future shape of Durango
City seeks input on revision of neighborhood infill design

The City of Durango is undergoing a revision of infill design standards for its established neighborhoods, including Old Durango. The standards were the result of public concern over massive new structures and their effect on the character of surrounding neighborhoods. A draft of the revised standards will be released on the city’s web site this week and released at an open house next week./Photo byTodd Newcomer.

by Missy Votel

City residents can catch a glimpse of what their neighborhoods may look like in the future when city planners host an open house on the revised infill design standards next week. The open house, slated for Thurs., Sept. 15, in City Council Chambers, will be followed by a public hearing with the Durango Planning Commission on Mon., Sept. 19.

In addition to taking testimony on the revised draft of the proposed standards, the public hearing also will address a proposed rezoning of existing downtown neighborhoods in order to facilitate the standards. Currently zoned as RS-4, RS-5, RST-8 and RM, existing downtown residential properties will be rezoned into five areas denoted by an “EN” (“established neighborhood”) designation and a number based on where the property is located. Allowed densities and uses will not change under the new zoning designations, rather the new standards will address bulk and mass issues.

The new standards, and subsequently the new zoning designations, came about as a result of public concern over the changing character of downtown neighborhoods, according to Durango Senior Planner Vicky Vandegrift.

“Last fall, the public went to the City Council with concerns over what was happening in their neighborhoods,” she said. Of particular trouble was the construction of large-scale homes next to smaller, more historic residences, which was said to be changing the character of downtown neighborhoods.

The city, seeing merit in the argument, enacted a building moratorium in October of 2004 that prohibited buildings over 25 feet or on slopes greater than 30 percent. Since then, the moratorium has been extended three times and is set to expire Dec. 13.

In the meantime, the city also hired a consulting firm, Winter & Co., to help with organizing public meetings and to oversee the process. Since January 2005, the city has held seven public workshops on the topic and sent out a survey to all property owners in the neighborhoods to be affected. More than 37 percent of those surveyed responded, and of those, 40 percent said they plan to expand their homes in the future. A majority said home improvements should reflect traditional home heights and masses and that three-story structures were not appropriate. Survey results, as well as input from the meetings, helped serve as guidelines for developing the new standards.

“We’ve tried really hard to let people know what’s going on,” said Vandegrift, adding that the public workshops drew upwards of 100 people per meeting.

During the course of the meetings, Vandegrift said it became apparent that the character of the various downtown neighborhoods varied, and as such, each one should be subject to its own set of guidelines.

“Everyone believed their neighborhoods were different and liked the concept of different designations,” she said.

As a result, the city is proposing five zones: Old Durango (EN-1); The Avenues (EN-2); East Animas City (EN-3); Crestview and Needham (EN-4); and Riverview (EN-5). City property owners were notified of the proposed designation changes via mail earlier this week.

The City Council got its first peak at the proposed infill design standards in early July, at which time it voted to extend the building moratorium so as to study the subject further. Public testimony on the standards was taken during an Aug. 22 Planning Commission meeting, and the City Council met with the commission the following day in a study session to further tweak the guidelines. The results of these meetings were then folded into the draft plan.

“There was some refinement and modification that came of these meetings,” said Vandegrift. Specifically, the changes will reflect concerns over bulk and review timeframes as well as clear up some discrepancies. Ahead of next week’s open house, Vandegrift said the newly revised draft, as well as maps of the newly designated areas, are available on the city’s web site, She said written and oral comments are encouraged.

“Comments are welcome, either written or by going to the Sept. 19 Planning Commission meeting to testify,” she said.

City planners expect a final draft of the infill design standards later this fall. •