Planners approve River Walk changes

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City Planning Commission members said they liked the changes developers made to the River Walk project at Thursday's pre-application hearing.

The commission members gave positive feedback to the increase in density in the project, the changes in architecture and the maintaining of the city's grid pattern.

Changes to the River Walk plan, which first came before the planning commission in December, were prompted by comments made by the planning commission and City Council during the first pre-application hearing, developer Jim Cook said.

The project, which will sit on a 3.5-acre site between Fourth and Third streets and the Lincoln Avenue alley and Yampa Street, is 150,000 square feet of commercial and residential space with 80 residential units.

Residents from the mobile-home park, whom the project would displace, also came before the planning commission Thursday night. Some residents asked to table the project until the developer came up with a relocation package.

City Planner Jonathan Spence said the city was meeting with the developer about the mobile homes and the city's ownership of a right of way. The two items would not be glossed over, he said in response to a resident's concern.

One of the most significant changes in the plan was increasing the density of the project. The first plan proposed 80,000 square feet with 49 units. Cook said the revision would have smaller units ranging from 800 to 1,900 square feet and would be more affordable for working families.

"I am happy to see the increase in the unit density. I would hope the applicant will put as many units as possible into the medium income range," Planning Commissioner Dick Curtis said. "We all realize the more diverse types of tenants, the better the town and city we have here."

The planning commission also supported the change in architecture. More traditional architecture was used for the residential units with historic styles and pitched roofs. The colors also were toned down, Cook said, and the larger commercial building has a simpler form.

"The architecture is not anywhere near as busy as before," Planning Commissioner Tracy Barnett said.

The street layout also changed. The original plan had Yampa Street as a narrow, curvy road through the project. In the revision, the applicants widened the road, made it more in line with the city's street grid pattern and put parallel parking on both sides.

Residents of Westland Trailer Park did speak out against the project, asking that the planning commission first see a relocation plan before moving forward.

The mobile-home park has 39 trailers and more than 100 residents -- all would be relocated if the plan is approved.

Mark Freirich, an attorney representing some of the mobile-home owners, called for the developers to pay the owners for the value of their mobile homes, many of which are too old to move. He called for Cook to provide more details on his plan.

"Please have the developer share with the planning commission and audience the details, which the audience is interested in hearing," he said.

Cook told the planning commission he knew when taking on this project that he would be the lightning rod for those who were against it, but he said the character attacks some residents were making Thursday night were inappropriate.

"We have a lot of options available to us in the closing and purchasing of this park. The easiest way to go about this is no benefit to all. We are working to come up with a plan," Cook said. "I am going to continue to be the rod, but the rod is getting a little bit thin."

Planning commission members said they would like to see more information about the relocation plan when the applicants came back for the final approval of the plan. The city has a mobile-home ordinance that requires developers to make their "best efforts" when mobile-home owners are being displaced and to present a conversion impact report to the city.

"I am sorry to see it is going to be addressed at a later time," Curtis said of the ordinance.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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