The Durango Planning Commission voted Monday to deny a 144-unit apartment complex proposed for north Main Avenue because of concerns about the height and design of the buildings.
The two apartment buildings west of the intersection of north Main Avenue and Animas View Drive were planned to be 260 feet long and 60 feet tall at their tallest points, according to city documents.
“I really don’t like these two massive buildings. I think it’s a really unimaginative design,” Planning Commission Chairman Joe Lewandowski said.
The commissioners voted 4-0 to deny a height variance for the complex, making a vote on the development proposal as a whole unnecessary. The commission had the final say on the project, which will not progress to Durango City Council.
Commissioners expressed concern the buildings would block views of Animas Mountain and set the wrong tone for the redeveloping the north Main Avenue corridor.
“This is just too big in my opinion,” Commissioner Geoff Hickcox said.
While the buildings would have been 60 feet at their highest point, the majority of the buildings were expected to be 43 to 49 feet high, above the city’s standard height limit of 39 feet.
Brian and Marlene Rael, owners of MBR Development, had asked for a height variance because the 7-acre site drops 70 feet from north to south.
Rael said he expected the project would fill a demand for housing particularly on the north end of town.
“We feel it’s a need for the city of Durango,” he said in a presentation. Rael declined to comment after the vote.
The commissioners acknowledged Durango needs housing, but they had more concerns about the buildings than they felt the developer could address if the proposal was continued to a later meeting, they said.
Beyond simply the size, commissioners expressed concern with only a 50-foot space between the two buildings, a major height difference between the buildings because of the site and the buildings’ similarities to some hotels in town.
“As we are going through the hearing, I was trying to envision how this could be reworked. ... I am not seeing it based on what we have in front of us,” Hickcox said. He said he would prefer to see a project broken up into smaller buildings on the site.
The commission’s denial requires a developer to wait 12 months before submitting a substantially similar project, Planning Manager Scott Shine said.
A handful residents also criticized the project for its size and the additional traffic it would generate.
“Aesthetically, I was a bit shocked as to how this looks. ... Why are we trying to cram in so much housing into these two monolithic structures?” Tim Wolf said.
Resident Ellen Stein questioned the need for more than 200 parking spaces when the complex was going to built near a Trolley stop.
“That suggests that we are building a community for more cars,” she said.
She encouraged the commission to follow the city’s own plans for north Main Avenue.
The north Main Avenue character district plan calls for walkable sections with mixed-use housing and commercial buildings.
“I am concerned that we are not following through on these planning activities that a lot of people have put time into,” Stein said.