Gold Hill Mesa developers believe their West Side infill project is “so far outside of the box” that it needs its own zoning.
Developer Bob Willard says, while some mid-size box stores — as prominent as Whole Foods and REI — could go in along U.S. Highway 24 and 21st Street before it’s finished, he plans to pursue a form-based code for the commercial development at Gold Hill Mesa.
“Form-based code lends to flexibility,” Willard said. “We don’t want another Citadel Mall, where the market changes and we end up with a big empty mall in the middle of a moat. We want a development that can evolve and be just as vibrant in 2213 as it is in 2013.”
The edges are the development’s front porch, Willard said. It’s where visitors are always welcome. And it’s where chain retailers and restaurants will likely locate. That means Willard and his team would be willing to accept some development there before the form-based code is complete.
The nearly 90 acres of commercial space at Gold Hill Mesa is zoned Planned Business Center, which is a relatively flexible zone, city senior planner Ryan Tefertiller said. It will allow retail and office. Apartments and senior living centers are also allowed with conditional use permits.
Willard said he suspects the right national businesses could snap up some of those more visible spaces along U.S. 24 and 21st Street within the next six months.
Rumors have been circulating that Whole Foods plans to move into the development.
“There is a thread of truth to that,” said Gold Hill Mesa marketing director Stephanie Edwards.
But it’s just a thread. She said she polled thousands of people who have come through the development for the Parade of Homes, all of the residents and some nearby neighbors about what businesses they’d like to see move into the area.
“Everyone wants a Whole Foods or a natural grocer of some kind,” she said. “And they want an REI and a Trader Joes.”
Edwards said she’s reaching out to Whole Foods management now.
“We think we have a pretty good conversation we could have with them,” she said. “We can’t say they’re coming, but we can say everyone wants them.”
Form-based code allows land use to change indiscriminately, with no need for zoning changes or city review, as long as buildings conform to certain design requirements.
The city developed a form-based code for downtown in 2009.
“Legally we had to establish the ability for other areas to create a zone,” said Tefertiller. “You can’t create a zone only allowed in one area.”
He said the city created a path for other areas or developments to establish their own codes, thinking that areas like South Nevada Avenue or South Academy Boulevard might one day establish them as tools for redevelopment.
“It’s not terribly surprising Gold Hill Mesa is interested in pursuing form-based code,” Tefertiller said.
The development has some unique goals and challenges.
Gold Hill Mesa will have a dense infill project, trying to take on an urban feel. It’s also going to be built into a steep slope. Willard doesn’t want to make a development like the many others spreading north and east of the city. He wants it to be sustainable, flexible and enduring.
He wants the community to have the flexibility to evolve and turn apartments into condos, condos into offices and offices into retail shops, depending on market demands.
He also wants to be smart about how space is used. Gold Hill Mesa won’t have a lot of big parking lots. The grade will allow underground and rooftop parking without expensive structures, Willard said. And there won’t be any retaining walls that aren’t also part of a building or functional space, he said.
The only other example of form-based code in the city is the one crafted for downtown, Tefertiller said. Gold Hill Mesa will be the first development to attempt to establish its own zoning. And the path will probably be littered with challenges.
“The biggest obstacle is the resources that have to go into it at the front end,” Tefertiller said. “Instead of looking at buildings one at a time over a period of years, you have to do it all at once. They have to put a plan on paper in a meaningful way.”
The advantage is that it will make development approval faster on the back end, he said.
John Olson, a planner with the Collaborative Design Group that will lead Gold Hill Mesa’s form-based code initiative, said community conversations will be key in creating and getting the code implemented.
He said he will host community meetings with Gold Hill Mesa residents and those in nearby neighborhoods about the proposal. He expects to be able to submit the code to the city for its review process by mid-spring.
Tefertiller said the code would have to go through some official community meetings, planning commission approval and two city hearings after that.
“The resistance might be, while you’re establishing predictability, you’re also making those decisions early and some people might like the idea of taking it piece by piece,” Tefertiller said. “They might not be comfortable saying that the vision they have now will be the same one they have in 10 years.”
Olson will write the code, which he said will be divided into sectors within the commercial development to allow for different types of buildings on the edges than in the center.
The first pieces of the commercial development to finish will likely be the outside parcels where larger anchors like Whole Foods could go. If the form-based code is approved, Willard would start working from the smokestack out.
He envisions an entertainment venue with hillside seating, much like an amphitheater, an events center and dozens of restaurants and shops on a walkable plaza with offices or apartments above.
He’d like to build a pedestrian tunnel to connect the development to Old Colorado City. It’s something he’ll need to fund with revenue from the development.
“But it would be good if we could put that in while there’s construction going on,” he said.
A pathway along the eastern edge would be the “Gold Hill incline,” as it’s the steepest part of the development. Willard pictures bicycle races and sporting events throughout the community and a sundial atop the smokestack marking the hours on the sides of buildings.
“This is just so far out of the box,” Willard said.