Town readies new land-use code

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Armed with an outdated and unclear land-use code, the Hayden Planning Commission has struggled with big development questions:

How wide should streets be? Should trails be dirt or concrete? How many trees should line sidewalks? How big should commercial signs be?

These questions and many more are answered in the town's latest and nearly final draft of its updated land-use code, which the Planning Commission will review during a work session Thursday.

The 300-page document is more than three times the size of the existing code, written in the mid-1970s. The state's Model Land Use Code served as a template for the updated code. Specifics are based on the town's new comprehensive plan, which suggests ways to maintain Hayden's family-oriented character and a healthy fiscal balance.

For example, the zoning chapter includes new districts that will help establish a historic downtown area, service- or pedestrian-oriented commercial areas and vehicle-oriented commercial areas -- all suggested in the comprehensive plan as a way to increase sales tax revenue.

The land-use code provides the "teeth" to enforce ideas put forth in the comprehensive plan, which is not a regulatory document.

"This is law," Hayden planning consultant Tim Katers said about the code. "It says 'shall' in there quite a lot."

With Kater's help, the Planning Commission has spent several work sessions fine-tuning big chapters such as Community Design Standards, which dictates lots, street blocks, parking, sidewalks, landscaping, lighting and other elements of neighborhoods and commercial developments.

The most challenging part of the process was establishing clear regulations that still accommodate creativity that add diversity to the town, said Tom Rogalski, vice chairman of the Planning Commission.

"We're trying to build in enough black and white but at the same time allow variation so that if a developer has a unique idea that meets the code's intent ... we have the room to say OK," he said.

Using the state's model code allowed the town to develop a more thorough code that helps fill gaps in the old code for issues such as motorhome parks, oil and gas drilling and mining. The new code also is much easier to reference.

"We now have it in black and white instead of having to struggle during meetings," Rogalski said. "It certainly makes me feel more comfortable."

Although the code may not be an exciting read, it is important that residents understand how it might affect them, he said.

For example, the town fielded a proposal last year to rezone an odd-shaped residential parcel of land along East Jefferson Avenue to commercial. Despite strong opposition from neighbors, the town approved the proposal because the comprehensive plan envisioned that area for future commercial use.

"That's exactly the kind of issue the new land-use code identifies,"

Town Manager Russ Martin has been happy with public input about the code, which has come from developers and residents.

"It's taken a little longer than we anticipated because there's been such good input from all parts of the community," he said.

Even when the proposed code is approved, it will be subject to constant changes, especially as the Planning Commission tests various aspects while considering various elements, "That's the whole purpose of our comprehensive plan, is to guide those changes over time," Martin said.

Residents are welcome at the work session at 6 p.m. at Hayden Town Hall.

Updated sections of the code referencing Community Design Standards and Zoning Regulations chapters are available for review at Town Hall, the Hayden Public Library and at www.townofhayden.org.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares, call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com.

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