The argument over allowing higher population densities in older established neighborhoods in Colorado Springs is about to heat up again.
The city government is moving forward with RetoolCOS, a program to rewrite the city’s residential and commercial building codes and put more people and more automobiles in less space.
One proposed change will increase the population density in R-2 two-family zones by permitting the construction of modern four-family apartment buildings in the zone. This doubling of the permitted neighborhood population density will also approximately double the number of automobiles driving about and parking in the neighborhood.
Under present R-2 two-family zoning, these so-called “fourplexes” are not permitted. No more than two families can live on a single lot.
Front-yard setbacks, the distance from the front of the two-family house to the front sidewalk, will be reduced from 25 feet to 10 feet. Side-yard setbacks will be reduced to as low as 1 foot.
To mark these increases in population density, numbers of automobiles, and appearance, RetoolCOS will change the name of the existing R-2 two-family zones to R-flex-low zones.
This higher-density zone change should be of major concern to older neighborhoods in Colorado Springs that surround the downtown area. Mainly built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these neighborhoods are filled with Victorian style houses, bungalows, and cottages. Many are zoned R-2 two family, but often the majority of the homes in the zone are actually used as single-family residences.
Putting modern-design four-unit apartment buildings into these older neighborhoods will clash aesthetically with their present Victorian design. For instance, North Nevada Avenue north of Colorado College has some of the most historic Victorian single-family homes in our city but is all zoned R-2 two family. It will become dotted with modern four-family apartments if R-flex-low zoning is applied.
Other neighborhoods surrounding downtown that include much R-2 two-family zoning include Old Colorado City and the west side, the residential areas east of Colorado College, most of the homes east of downtown along East Platte Avenue and East Boulder, East Bijou and East Kiowa streets, the area southwest of downtown, and along both sides of Brookside Street.
If your home was built prior to World War II, there is a good chance it may be zoned R-2.
The worst case scenario is that speculators will buy beautiful Victorian homes and bungalows in our present R-2 two-family zones, tear them down, and replace them with modern four-family apartment buildings. Since these apartment buildings will be a permitted use in the R-flex low zone, no special permission from the city will be required to tear down the old historic homes and build modern flat-roofed apartments to replace them.
R-1 single-family zoning, the zoning on most newer homes in Colorado Springs, will remain basically unchanged under the RetoolCOS proposal. But residents of R-1 single-family zones will be affected when driving their automobiles. Many of the major streets into downtown Colorado Springs are lined with R-2 zoning. The increased density of homes and automobiles in R-flex-low zones will increase street traffic and make downtown less accessible.
The battle between supporters of higher population densities and older established neighborhoods is a nationwide conflict. Supporters of high-density want more people walking in the neighborhood and more emphasis on mass transit. Also the four-family apartment buildings may be cheaper to rent and, thus, might supply more affordable housing.
I am for mixed zoning where fourplexes are built alongside single-family homes, but only in newly built neighborhoods on open land where buyers know ahead of time they are getting a home in a high-density section of town. I oppose fourplexes in older neighborhoods where buyers bought in R-2 two-family zones and expect them to stay two family.
There is no more important time than right now for homeowners to know what the zoning is on their home. There are many people in Colorado Springs living in single-family homes who do not know they have R-2 two-family zoning and could have a fourplex open up next door — or across the street — once R-flex-low zoning takes effect in their neighborhood.
Colorado Springs is frequently ranked as one of the best cities in the United States in which to live and raise a family. It seems illogical to use rezoning to raise the densities of both people and automobiles when the quality of life in our city is rated highly just as it is.
The city government in Colorado Springs wants to hear from its citizens about the proposed higher-density changes in the R-2 two-family zone. You can let them know your opinion by sending an e-mail to RetoolCOS@ColoradoSprings.gov.
Do not hesitate to make your views known. The city has set a deadline of December 30 for receiving comments.
Colorado College political scientist Bob Loevy is a longtime Victorian house hugger. Along the way he has served as a city planning commissioner, two times as a city Charter review commissioner, and as chairman of the former city Open Space Committee.
This content was originally published here.