Westminster approves plan to decrease housing density, increase commercial

Luke Zarzecki
Posted 3/23/23

Westminster city councilors exchanged tense words at the March 13 city council meeting as they approved a revised version of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan plan that kiboshes high …

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Westminster approves plan to decrease housing density, increase commercial


Westminster city councilors exchanged tense words at the March 13 city council meeting as they approved a revised version of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan that kiboshes high density. 

“Our resistance to apartments and multi-family is also irresponsible and entitled. I don't like using those words, but someone had to say it,”  Councilor Obi Ezeadi said as his colleagues approved a plan that zones for more single-family homes and commercial spaces on developable land by a 5-2 vote. Ezeadi and City Councilor Sarah Nurmela were the dissenting votes.

According to documents attached to the meeting’s agenda, the city will increase offices and commercial uses compared to the prior plan. The total area for non-residential uses will rise 13 points, from 64% to 77%. 

That means less housing for Westminster’s future. The total area for residential and mixed-use zoning will decrease from 36% to 23%.

With the decrease in zoned land for housing, it’ll be even fewer units due to a decrease in density. Zoning for higher density, multi-family remains at 0%, medium residential decreased by 6% and mixed-use activity center (which is 36 units per acre) was lowered by 12%. 

Those decreases, however, come with an increase in single-family homes. Low residential zoning went from 5% to 10%.

City Councilor Sarah Nurmela explained her disapproval of the plan, comparing the future of Westminster to present-day Boulder’s high housing costs. She said due to zoning laws the city passed, prices went high and it excluded residents from coming or staying in Boulder. 

“As we become more exclusive, we are going to push people out,” she said. 

Nurmela said the plan goes against what the public wants. City Councilor Bruce Baker said it’s exactly what the public asked for, and said the new plan is more ethical because it makes fewer water promises.

“My feedback from the public is that we already have too much multi-family housing,” Baker said. 

“I’m glad we have had outreach that went beyond Councilor Baker’s few conversations with the people that think alike with him,” Nurmela responded. 

She said community members aren’t “entitled” and are struggling with student loans, childcare prices and other increases in the cost of living. 

“I applaud you for living your life in such a place of grace where no one else has an issue,” she said. 

Ezeadi said the plan does have some good things but is outweighed by the bad. 

“It’s prioritizing commercial over housing in a crisis,” he said. 

Ezeadi said the city needs housing of all kinds. Mayor Pro Tem David DeMott said he didn’t grow up privileged, and that he earned his place in the city, firing back at accusations of entitlement.

“It by no means comes from any kind of entitlement, besides I was born to a family who taught me what work ethic meant,” he said. 

He said that the council has shown they understand the need for housing, citing the Uplands development approval in 2021. 

“To hear it was irresponsible from someone (Ezeadi) who voted against that, the housing crisis I guess only counts when there aren’t people who are going to get mad at a vote from this chamber,” DeMott said. 

City Councilor Lindsey Emmons said she won’t make judgments on other councilors’ past struggles and described how she needed to live with her best friend's parents after college. She explained her experience of “scrimp and save” to buy her first home. 

Mayor Nancy McNally touted the plan due to water availability but also called for more affordable housing near transit stations. She also wants residents to be able to buy a home and not throw money at rent. 

City Councilor Rich Seymour offered a calm perspective, saying applicants can apply to change zoning within the city, and the city council can edit the plan in the future. 

Density amendments 

City Council approved 6-1, Baker dissenting, to change the zoning at the Northgate property near Federal Boulevard and 70th into medium density. It’s across from the Westminster Station.

Andrew Spurgin, principal planner of long-range planning, said that staff supported the change since it would allow the missing middle housing near transit. 

City Councilor Sarah Nurmela proposed two zoning amendments. 

One was for the area at Wagon Road Park and Ride off of Huron and 120th to be a mixed-use activity center. 

She said the mixed- use zoning can maximize the opportunities for housing and those units would be served by the transit, creating a good location for affordable housing. 

The motion originally passed 4-3, with Emmons, McNally, Ezeadi and Nurmela voting yes. However, Emmons changed her vote later in the meeting and the motion failed. 

Emmons said she changed her vote due to the staff’s recommendation for the zoning change to go through the city’s application process. 

Nurmela also proposed commercial mixed-use zoning at 88th and Wadsworth.

Spurgin said that commercial mixed-use is commercial land use, but allows the opportunity to add multifamily up to 36 units per acre.

“This is what happened at part of Brookhill North at 90th Avenue, so this would allow south of 90th Avenue down to 80th Avenue (to also be mixed-use commercial),” he said. 

City Councilor Bruce Baker said it was a “terrible idea,” saying too many people lived there already and that the Comprehensive Plan already provides more housing to be built. 

Nurmela disagreed, pointing to the transit that runs near the area and saying the city needs more housing than the Plan permits. 

The motion failed 5-2, with Nurmela and Ezeadi voting yes. 

Skyrocketing costs 

The revised plan comes as prices for housing continue to climb. 

According to the Colorado Association of Realtors, a single-family home in Westminster cost $345,000 in 2017. In 2022, it rose to around $593,750. 

The price of condos and townhomes also increased, from $230,000 in 2017 to $385,000 in 2022. 

Housing costs are also a major concern among residents. The 2022 Community Survey said 74% of respondents think housing is one of Westminster’s biggest issues. 

Past and future housing stock

Spurgin answered questions and presented the plan to the council.

Ezeadi pointed to past housing needs assessment reports that say the city consists of too much commercial and too little housing. With that in mind, he asked how it was appropriate for staff to propose a plan that increases commercial and decreases density. 

Spurgin said staff adhered to the council’s guidance.

McNally asked if the plan is flexible enough to have conversations regarding adding more affordable housing to the city. Spurgin said higher density can include more affordable housing, and the council would need to agree to rezone areas. 

“We historically built a lot of single-family, we recently built a lot of multi-family, we need to look at the spectrum in between,” Spurgin said. 

He said the prior plan allowed for the missing middle housing. 

McNally said with all the four major transit stations in Westminster, not one has an affordable housing unit, and she scolded past councils who weren’t asking questions about adding those units.

“Transit stations are where we said in the past that we need to put some of this stuff there,” she said. 

Baker asked how many multi-family units the city will get with the new plan, the Uplands project, the new downtown and Westminster Station.

Spurgin said the city anticipates 932 multi-family units and 1,031 single-family units on unentitled lands, which don’t have applications to build housing yet.  

For the entitled lands, the Downtown Westminster plan will have about 1,500 more multi-family units, Westminster Station has 778 multi-family units left and the Uplands Development will include 1,132 multi-family units. 

According to Andy Le, a spokesperson for the city, Westminster’s current housing stock consists of 32,001 single units, 1,645 buildings with 2-4 units, 12,741 buildings with 5 or more units and 581 mobile homes. 

Westminster, density, comprehensive plan, missing middle housing


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