Editor's note: Information has been corrected in this article from the initial published version.
The story of King Solomon threatening to cleave a baby in two with a sword to resolve a dispute illustrates that it is not always wise to divide by half in order to achieve a compromise solution. In two recent unrelated zoning cases, Grand Junction City Council chose to do just that in order to appease the concerns of neighbors, with questionable outcomes.
In actions related to the Maverick Annexation, City Council, much to the surprise of everyone in the room (including it seems to themselves), reduced the zoning from the staff-recommended density of R-4 (allowing up to 4 units per acre), to R-1 (one-acre lots). Staff's recommendation was consistent with the city's Comprehensive Plan, which designates the area for low to medium density urban development (2-4 homes/acre).
In our view, it is not appropriate for the city to annex land at such low densities.
We often hear our elected leaders talk about goals to preserve the quality of life in our valley — preserving our open lands, and maintaining separation between urban and rural areas. We know that the region is facing increasing growth pressures, and we would be wise to make land use decisions that will help us achieve those goals, and lead to efficient development patterns in the future. Simply stated, you can't be against both density and sprawl.
Low density development is not smart growth — it promotes urban sprawl and is less efficient at providing services (police, fire, water, sewer, etc). Low density development (like R-1) requires nearly the same amount of streets and urban services as higher density development (like R-4 or R-8), with nowhere near the same tax revenue, so the cost to provide and maintain city services is much higher for taxpayers.
If the city is not willing to see an area develop at urban densities, then perhaps it should not annex it and commit to providing city services. In a case like Maverick, perhaps the City should revisit the Comprehensive Plan, and/or amend the Sewer Service Area (Persigo) Agreement with Mesa County, to provide more flexibility to not mandate annexation of areas like this one.
More recently, Council acted to rezone the Burkey property with a mixed-use designation along the Patterson Road frontage, and an R-5 designation in the northern portion of the property. Staff had recommended that the residential area be zoned R-8, which would allow development at densities up to 8 units per acre (likely to develop at 5-6 units per acre). Surrounding neighborhoods opposed the development, and requested a lower designation, which Council approved. It's simply not wise land-use policy to zone infill sites to densities lower than the homes that surround them, particularly along a major corridor like Patterson Road.
To be fair to the neighbors, most of them were resistant to any development, in light of the long-anticipated development of the Burkey property as a city park, which had been dedicated to the city years ago. However, voters approved the sale of the property in April's election, opening the door for council's rezoning action.
We understand that Council is not bound to follow staff recommendations, but they would be wise to not make spur-of-the-moment decisions that have long-term consequences to the city's growth patterns and fiscal well-being. If we are to encourage smart growth and infill development, we need to make the hard decisions and not simply reduce density to try and make everyone happy.