Neighborhood Compatibility Regulations Considered by City Council

The City Council is continuing its push to consider the means by which to regulate neighborhood compatibility in the older neighborhoods on both sides of College Avenue. The problem, according to some, is that scrape-offs or pop-ups are negatively impacting neighborhood character because they are out of scale with the surrounding houses.

At a recent study session the staff proposed to restrict home size in these neighborhoods, arguing size is the primary element that defines character. However, the Council didn’t appear to have consensus on the issue at all.

David Roy argued that historic preservation should be the guiding principle, but his colleagues did not share his opinion. Kelly Ohlson castigated his fellow Council members, saying they obviously hadn’t read their packets or they would agree with his position, which was to keep the regulations simple to regulate the five percent of homeowners, whose new or renovated homes don’t fit the neighborhood. Ben Manvel was more concerned with regulating how much a property could shade another home, reducing its ability to generate solar power. Wade Troxell and Aislinn Kottwitz were clearly uncomfortable with legislating “taste” while Mayor Doug Hutchinson wondered how big the problem really is and worried about creating simple regulations without unintended consequences. The Council’s goal is to have an ordinance ready for public review beginning December 7.

Note: This discussion should seem familiar because the City of Boulder has adopted legislation with the same intent. Boulder’s ordinance was referred to several times during the study session, illustrating that public policy is regional in the sense that legislation in one of our area’s jurisdictions can lead to similar ideas in others. Creating “HOA” type legislation to regulate what “looks good” is bad enough, but neighborhood compatibility regulations can also impact affected properties’ resale value.

Comissioners Say No to Energy Improvement District

The Fort Collins based group, Community for Sustainable Energy (CSE), was disappointed when the Larimer County Commissioners turned down their request to put a question on the November ballot to create an energy improvement district. Their goal was ask voters to allow the County to issue bonds, creating a funding source for residential energy efficiency loans.

The loan would be added to an owner’s property tax bill and herein lies the problem. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac currently prohibit financing of properties with assessments for any energy efficiency/renewable energy improvements. Since loans can, and are routinely sold, this means any residential loan secured by a mortgage could be subject to the GSE rules at some point, which has been the kiss of death for these programs. Boulder County’s ClimateSmart Loan Program is a case in point.

The Larimer County Commissioners declined to support the proposed ballot measure because of the related administrative costs the program would create. In addition, although media coverage did not mention it, the Commissioners are aware of the GSE prohibition against energy loans said Commissioner Steve Johnson. CSE is undeterred, and may gather signatures to force the issue next year.

Council Votes Against Landlord Agent Proposal

An Agent of Record (AOR) ordinance was the topic of discussion at a City Council meeting on August 24. LAR opposed the proposal because it would mandate that landlords living outside a 40 mile radius of Longmont to hire an agent to represent their properties.

City staff argued the program was needed to ensure landlords of “problem properties” could be contacted quickly and efficiently. LAR’s position is that an AOR Program would create an additional, unnecessary cost for property owners, most of whom derive little profit from their rental properties. The REALTORS® also argued that the proposal would create another layer of bureaucracy but would not solve the issues it is intended to fix. LAR President Deanna Dyer and President-Elect (2012) Bob Danos testified persuasively about the problems with the ordinance. After much discussion, the City Council voted 4-3 to kill the ordinance on first reading. Council members who against the bill were: Mayor Baum and Council members Alex Sammoury, Gabe Santos and Katie Witt. The vote means that as long as the current Council is in office, the threat of an AOR is gone. However, if enough seats change in the upcoming November 2011 election, the issue could easily be resurrected.

No Solution to Rural Road Funding

After a citizens’ committee spent months looking at the issue, there is still no reasonable solution to the dilemma of how to pay for rural road maintenance (that is, maintenance other than filling potholes and snow plowing). Property owners were surveyed and unsurprisingly a majority did not want to pay an additional $130 a year for road paving. The Commissioners have retreated to the established policy of putting the responsibility on the subdivisions, saying residents can form improvement districts if they want to do something about the problem. But this is easier said than done.

The creation of an improvement district requires a majority of residents to vote in favor of it, and in this economy that is a tough sell. Any delay in creating a district will increase the cost, making the passage of a vote even less likely. Even though the Commissioners agreed that improvement districts are the only recourse they’re willing to pursue, they still want some sort of comprehensive solution to keep roads from deteriorating. This seems contradictory. Note: Some rural subdivisions don’t have a homeowner’s association, so organizing a campaign to create an improvement district would be a daunting task.