Dillon considers more restrictions on building height
How tall is too tall?
That’s one of the burning questions facing the Dillon Town Council over the coming months as the town considers taking a more hardline stance on building height.
At the regular town council workshop on Tuesday evening, the council directed staff to draft a new ordinance to remove potential building height variances from the planned unit development process, a move that would essentially place a hard cap on building height and remove any flexibility for the town or developers to negotiate heights above what is allowed by the current underlying zoning districts.
“We have a lot of growth happening and a lot of developments coming in,” said Mayor Carolyn Skowyra. “At length we’ve been in touch with the people in our area, and one of the things we hear is that maintaining our town’s character, our authenticity and our view corridors is a priority.”
The town already has fairly strict height regulations in its code, allowing heights of up to 50 feet tall in the Core Area Zone, 35 feet in the Mixed Use Zone and 40 feet in the Commercial Zone. Additionally, the town currently allows for an extra 8 feet on top of the height limit for non-inhabitable architectural elements.
But under the current development requirements, the maximum heights of buildings can be increased beyond what is allowed in consideration of its geographic location, the visual effect on adjacent sites, uses provided within the proposed building, fire protection capacities and more. The new ordinance, expected to come before the council for a first reading sometime in February, would seek to remove the clause from the code.
The idea appeared to pull strong support from council members, who jumped at the opportunity to create something that would provide developers with more consistent expectations during the application process. But town officials also believe the move could serve as a show of faith toward community members with growing concerns about building height.
“If we’re not going to allow any developments to go over, which is the precedent we’ve set, it makes sense to give developers an honest expectation for the process,” Skowyra said. “I think we’ve seen a lot of support for the development that’s happening, but everything in moderation. When we see applications we’ll hear things that other people have heard, and rumors can get out of hand. Something we’ll consider is does this buy us a little bit of trust with the citizens that maybe do or don’t want to see change? If we say we don’t want tall buildings either, that might be a unifying decision.”
Ultimately the crux of the decision will fall on whether or not the council believes the flexibility offered through development code exemptions outweighs the benefits of removing it — e.g., simpler application processes with less back and forth, fewer developers wasting time and money on applications that won’t be accepted, and building community trust.
Not every council member was excited about the proposal. Mark Nickel stood alone as the dissenting party during the discussion. While Nickel voiced that he’s in strong favor of the current regulations regarding building height, and generally has no interest in taller buildings, he noted concerns about taking a hard stance on the policy.
“I don’t like to draw a line and say we can’t consider other options,” said Nickel. “I think there’s other circumstances that come into play like the width and the footprint. … I think we have to look at each project individually and see how it effects the landscape and the surrounding community. The height is a factor, but there are others.”
Nickel pointed to the possibility that developers will simply begin planning wider buildings in lieu of taller ones, which he says could have similar effects on view corridors. He also noted that he’s concerned the ordinance could discourage developers from bringing potentially positive projects to town.
“Giving staff the opportunity to tell potential developers that we have a requirement is a good thing,” continued Nickel. “I like the idea of having the height requirement in there, but not to the point where there is no gray area.”
At this point it is unclear if the ordinance will pass, as the town will look to research the potential effects to areas such as housing needs before moving forward. The town is also hoping to collect more community input from residents and developers before anything is decided. The first reading of the ordinance will likely take place in February, before a public hearing is opened on the issue.
“I’m interested to hear the reaction from the people who think 58 feet is too tall, and from the developers who think they have a project that should be bigger,” said Skowyra. “I’m sure we’ll hear from both of those groups, and I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone has to say about it.”
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