The city’s long-term vision to transform the Camino del Rio and north Main Avenue corridor into walkable, welcoming areas has, so far, been met with positive reactions, city officials say.
The draft plan includes updating city land-use codes, offering grants to improve the corridor and creating an urban renewal district.
At a work session this week, councilors generally approved of the plan and the strategies to implement it.
“It all resonates,” Mayor Dick White said.
City councilors will consider adopting the plan in April.
Planning Manager Scott Shine said the public was receptive of the plan at a recent open house.
“I think we’ve really hit on something that the community really is interested in and sees potential for,” he said.
The draft plan encourages business owners and developers to consider the vision for the area, he said.
Improving pedestrian safety was one of the priorities residents asked to be part of the plan, and Councilor Sweetie Marbury echoed the need for change that would encourage drivers to slow down – and soon.
“I am talking about this year, this month,” Marbury said Tuesday.
The Colorado Department of Transportation manages traffic on north Main Avenue, which is also U.S. Highway 550, so the city cannot lower the speed limit along the road or make other significant changes.
But Assistant City Manager Kevin Hall said he expects CDOT will continue to improve the highway. It recently put in new bike lanes, curb ramps and smoothed the road.
“We have had continuous incremental improvement,” he said.
As the area redevelops, traffic will naturally start to slow down because drivers will notice street trees and pedestrian activity, said city planner Savannah Jameson.
To encourage change in the district, the city plans to launch two grant programs this week.
“These grants will result in a high concentration of improvements over a relatively short time period,” said Colleen O’Brien, city business development and redevelopment coordinator.
Improvements will help capture the attention of the 30,000 drivers who pass through the corridor daily, inviting them to visit businesses, O’Brien said.
RE:NEW grants would be available to businesses that face north Main Avenue. The city plans to match investments businesses make to improve signs, awnings, windows, sidewalks, curbs, gutters, landscaping and other projects. The city set aside $35,000 for RE:NEW grants, with individual grants capped at $5,000.
Through Durango Creates!, the city plans to grant money to businesses, nonprofits and other groups that want to organize creative projects or events such as public art installations, murals, pop-up shops and other projects. The city set aside $20,000 for the program, according to city documents.
The city also plans to spend $75,000 updating its land-use codes to facilitate the development it wants to see in the corridor, such as encouraging minimum height standards for buildings, reducing parking standards and introducing incentives for providing housing, Shine said.
Rezoning some parcels would open the possibility of developing neighborhood centers with high-density housing on streets parallel to Main Avenue. This type of housing would preserve some mountain views along the corridor, he said, because the developments would be spread out.
“It will take a lot of community dialogue about what’s appropriate,” Shine told councilors.
The plan suggests that the city could form an urban renewal authority to guide development by 2019. Urban renewal authorities can be useful in many ways, such as:
Using loans, bonds and acquiring property. Buying property to create public trails and open spaces.Buying and consolidating lots to be resold to developers.“It’s a really flexible tool,” Shine said.
Renewal authorities can also use tax increment financing to fund or subsidize redevelopment. To set up this form of funding, a baseline for tax collections in a neighborhood is set, and as tax collections grow, the additional money would be reinvested into the neighborhood. The money could pay for public improvements such as plazas, sidewalks or new traffic signals, Shine said.
By state law, renewal authorities must help areas with deteriorating buildings, inadequate street layout, inadequate public improvements, buildings with code violations or other specific conditions.
“We would start out small and work with willing property owners and build the capacity,” Shine said.
The draft plan and survey seeking feedback on its ideas can be found at districts.durangogov.org.