In January 2021, Carbondale’s Board of Town Trustees voted to update the town’s 2013 Comprehensive Plan. On Nov. 15, after nearly two years, the outcome will be voted on for adoption at a public hearing hosted at Town Hall at 6 p.m.
The process involved robust public participation including an initial survey which yielded more than 500 responses, several stakeholder meetings and other in-person, bilingual engagement events, as well as many Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) meetings to drill down on the finer details.
Jay Engstrom, P&Z chair for over a year, told The Sopris Sun that the process began largely as a “patch” to provide guidance for future development and particularly in “Downtown North,” a 12-acre industrial park north of Town Hall which once housed maintenance facilities for the Mid-Continent coal-mining operations.
Downtown North, also referred to as the “Opportunity Area” throughout this process, was the focus of plans for residential development in the past and, according to Engstrom, was left unaddressed by the 2013 Comprehensive Plan. “Before they didn’t have any direction… now at least they have some direction from the community.”
This direction allows for mixed-use development, with two and three-story residential apartments that maintain light industrial spaces on the ground floor, similar to Dolores Way.
“Through all the outreach provided, we found concerns regarding other zoning that wasn’t part of this update,” said Engstrom. With so much change seen and felt in Carbondale, especially along Highway 133, the update grew larger than anticipated, what Engstrom referred to as “scope creep.”
State law requires that municipalities have a comprehensive plan to provide a policy framework for regulatory tools like zoning changes, subdivisions and annexations; the document is not, however, regulatory in of itself. The Comprehensive Plan informs the Unified Development Code which guides approval for new developments.
From the beginning, P&Z has acted as the project’s steering committee, which also hired an interdisciplinary firm called Cushing Terrell for $75,000 to do much of the work in 2021. Once Cushing Terrell’s contract expired, however, P&Z was left with double-duty: performing their ordinary responsibilities as volunteers on an important town commission that meets twice per month, in addition to overseeing final changes for the update.
Public engagement launched with a survey in July 2021, and continued through February 2022 with comments solicited through an online platform (chartcarbondale.com) during different stages of the document’s creation.
According to Engstrom, the content of the draft has not changed substantially since it was premiered in February, online and in hardcopy at “reading rooms” scattered throughout town. It has, though, been merged with the 2013 Comprehensive Plan for easier readability.
Here are some highlights:
Updated Future Land Use Map (FLUM), an advisory document for future land use zoning changes
Climate Action: stay on course while expanding the definition of “sustainable development” to intersect with social equity
Recommendation to conduct a long-range transportation master planning effort, expand transit services, improve pedestrian/bicycle safety, have a sidewalk maintenance program
Suggestion to expand historic design guidelines to residential areas downtown in keeping with historic neighborhood character and ensuring compatibility when new developments occur
You can review the 100-page draft (+90-page appendix) in English and Spanish ahead of the public hearing on Nov. 15 at: carbondaleconnect.org/chart-carbondale
Engstrom noted that P&Z will also recommend trustees plan ahead for more revisions or an entirely revamped plan within the next few years. “2014, that was a different time,” he said. “We need to make sure what we’re requesting of developers is aligned with what the town wants to see [now]…”