When we buy our homes we want to have some certainty that the neighborhood around us won’t be converted to incompatible uses. Since 1997 the City of Fort Collins has preserved neighborhood quality of life and residential property values through zoning rules which allow specific uses on properties within defined zone districts.
It seems straightforward enough that if the zoning is residential, your home won’t soon be surrounded by offices, bed-and-breakfast inns or other uses. But in Fort Collins there is a little-known clause in the Land Use Code which erases this certainty. The Addition of a Permitted Use (APU) was originally enacted to allow the Director of Community Development & Neighborhood Services to add appropriate new uses to entire zone districts if such uses were not already explicitly included in the Land Use Code. Examples where it was used include "non-alcoholic nightclubs", "wildlife rehabilitation centers" and most recently "music facilities."
But, in 2008 as part of the "routine" Land Use Code updates, this clause was modified to allow the Planning and Zoning Board to apply the APU to individual properties and to add land uses which are already accommodated in other zone districts. This was done without any public input but it has the potential to have profound effects on our residential neighborhoods, especially given the recent increase in development we have been seeing here in Fort Collins.
All of the recent cases (since the 2008 change) have been to add uses which are already allowed elsewhere in other zone districts and about 44% of these have been in residential zones. Two-thirds of the City’s twenty-six zone districts already allow uses such as commercial, retail and high density housing – this is mixed use development. It is not necessary to allow commercial and other non-residential uses to creep into residential neighborhoods. Nor is it necessary to allow high-density housing to infiltrate single-family neighborhoods.
No other city has a clause anything like this. It essentially enables a property owner who no longer wishes to use their home as a home to add some other use – an unearned windfall that comes at the expense of the rest of the neighborhood. Changing residential properties to commercial uses erodes the residential character of a neighborhood, it reduces the number of houses available for residential use, thus driving up housing costs and it violates the principle of equal protection under the law by granting different rights to a single property owner.
Several city residents have been working to have this clause removed from nine zone districts in order to protect neighborhoods. This proposition is a reasonable solution which would balance the protection of residential neighborhoods with the flexibility to add new uses on individual properties in non-residential zones.
We feel that the APU should be eliminated from these zone districts because they are primarily residential, are adjacent to primarily residential zones (and already allow compatible non-residential uses) or are explicitly defined as buffer zones which serve to protect residential zones from incompatible uses (and which again allow some non-residential uses):
• Neighborhood Conservation, Low Density (N-C-L)
• Neighborhood Conservation, Medium Density (N-C-M)
• Low Density Residential (R-L)
• Rural Land Use (R-U-L)
• Urban Estate (U-E)
• Residential Foothills Development (R-F)
• Low Density Mixed –Use Neighborhood (L-M-N)
• Medium Density Mixed-Use Neighborhood (M-M-N)
• Neighborhood Conservation Buffer (N-C-B).
This proposed change will come before City Council soon (it is listed on the 6-month calendar for June 2). Please plan to attend and help show support for neighborhoods and for strong protection of residential character and uses.
We will post and update when the date for the Council hearing is set.