Codes streamline development process in Centennial

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In 2010 the Centennial city council adopted a new set of Land Development Codes, which have had a dramatic impact on zoning and development around the city and are slowly but surely changing the face of Centennial.

Impacting everything from the size and appearance of individual buildings and their signs to the design and scope of approved-but-yet-to-be-built new “urban centers,” Centennial's new LDCs are a direct reflection of council's desire to guide and polish Centennial's brand while making the government more accessible to Centennial residents.

Examples of how the new development standards are reshaping the city include:

• The Jones District, a 42-acre, 1.8-million-square-foot, mixed-use “urban center” that will be city's single-largest commercial development to date. Cable and online education magnate Glenn Jones recently won council approval to move forward on his mega-project, which will be built immediately west of Jones International University headquarters and IKEA. The project's backers told city councilors their development would not have been feasible if the city had not adopted the new LDCs. Mary Bliss, Jones' vice president for real estate development, said the new LDCs are “business-friendly and really helped streamline and expedite the approvals process.”

• A request approved by city council Oct. 21 allowing Centennial Healthcare to rezone its 32-acre property on the southwest corner of East Arapahoe Road and South Jordan Road from mixed-use planned unit development (M-U PUD) to a BP — or business park — designation. The revised zoning allows Centennial Healthcare to take advantage of new standards in the 2011 LDCs that allow some commercial properties to erect electronic signs.

Andrew Firestine, Centennial's deputy director of community development, said the rezoning by Centennial Healthcare “was an example of business owners proactively identifying reasons to rezone in order to take advantage” of the new Land Development Codes.

Other examples of new electronic signs popping up around the city include ones at the Celebrity Center at Arapahoe and Parker roads, in front of the shopping center at University Boulevard and Dry Creek Road, and at Interstate 25 and County Line Road at the Centennial Promenade shopping center.

The large electronic sign in front of the Centennial Civic Center was also erected after the new LDCs were adopted.

As far as the proposed Jones District is concerned, Firestine said the “urban center” — or UC — zoning designation did not exist in the city's prior land development codes.

When the city incorporated in 2001, the city council adopted Arapahoe County's land development codes, which, Firestine explained, were standards drawn up by Arapahoe County officials in 1985.

“It was an older code that envisioned a more rural form of development,” Firestine said. “That's not what we envisioned for the city, which is by and large suburban in character. We were seeing an intensification of development and we needed better tools to respond to that.”

Firestine said the new LDCs offer “greater predictability and certainty in the review process. For a developer, there is certainty in the land development process because the development standards are in the codes,” Firestine said. “In the old process, the standards were often open to negotiation.”

Firestine said that drafting and adopting the new zoning standards “was a long and exhausting process” that involved the work of “many people.”

The process began in 2008, and before the new codes came on line, Firestine said there were “a multitude of presentations to city council and the planning commission” as well as a number of public forums.

On Aug 15, 2011, the city instituted what was called a “legislative rezoning” under the new LDCs.

That action saw a blanket rezoning of more than 30,000 residential properties to the new standards.

“We realized that we had over 150 negotiated PUDs in the city,” Firestine said. “What this meant was that if a property owner wanted to develop property in the city under the old codes, it was very hard to understand what they could and couldn't do.”

The new LDCs established just 13 separate categories of zoning districts.

Then, on Dec. 3, 2012, under its second phase of legislative rezoning, the city rezoned properties owned by local, state and federal government entities as well as school districts and other special districts.

“That second phase of legislative rezoning also included a handful of commercial properties whose owners were already prepared and eager to go through the rezoning process,” Firestine said.

The new LDCs, Firestine said, “created certainty. What this means is that if people come in (to the city's planning department) and want to do an expansion or addition, say a detached garage, under the new LDCs, they see exactly what is permitted.”

The new LDCs, Firestine added, “provide greater clarity and understanding and ease of administration. People can now pull up zoning standards for their property online and be able to understand clearly what they can and can't do.”

Firestine said the city plans to do a third phase of legislative rezoning in 2014.

“We will reach out and start to engage commercial property owners early next year,” he said.

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