Sep 15, 2023
Ever since Hayden's enacted its disastrous 2040 Comprehensive Plan in 2021, there has been a conflict between residents who want to return as much as possible to the former Land Use Map and Zoning Regulations, and city officials who prefer to make minimal changes. What is the best way forward?
Save Hayden has been investigating housing issues for two years and we've summarized some of our findings in this two-part article. The first part, Turbo Charging Multi-family Housing, covers changes to Multi-family zones, Mixed Use zoning (MU) , and the Future Land Use Map (FLUM). The second part, Densifying Single-Family Neighborhoods—covers Mixed Residential zoning (MR), Citywide upzones, and “Standards of Approval".
Part I: Turbo-Charging Multi-Family Housing
In spring of 2021 the Hayden City Council approved a new set of zoning codes and a Future Land Use Map (FLUM) that foresaw a dramatically densified city. The most serious change involved adding two new multi-family zoning categories, MR—Mixed Residential (duplex, townhomes), and MU—Mixed Use (apartments or commercial).
The 2040 FLUM used the newly defined MR and MU zone types to upzone over 1700 existing parcels, much to the dismay of existing residents. The new Hayden envisioned by City Planners was basically an ocean of corporate MU apartments and medium density multi-family complexes.
City administrators originally planned to do a citywide rezone and lock in the new multi-family zones in one swoop. But there were legal obstacles so the city backed off, and during 2022, focused on upzoning existing, medium density multi-family parcels (R-MF). This time the citywide rezone succeeded and the whole drama of Hayden’s R-MF to MR upzone is covered in Part II: Densifying SF Neighborhoods.
Fortunately, most of the property designated Mixed Use (MU) in the FLUM, has not yet been rezoned. As it now stands, there are only a few dozen acres of MU in the city zoning map. But the threat that hundreds of additional acres could be rezoned MU remains and as time goes on, reforming the FLUM becomes ever more difficult. The pro-growth City Planners know this, and they are stonewalling.
STONEWALLING THE FLUM
It has been obvious since the 2040 Comp Plan was first introduced that it was impossible to manage Growth in Hayden without drastically curtailing MU zoning. Save Hayden members advocating for reductions or the elimination of the Mixed Use zoning in the FLUM since we were first informed of the problem. Three of Save Hayden's earliest blog posts were based on letters to City Council members, pointing out the problems with Mixed Use zoning. See Letter to Hayen City Council No. 1, Letter No. 2, and Letter No. 3
But city planners do not want to reduce acreage dedicated to MU, so they delayed, arguing that any such change to the comprehensive plan would take months and cost thousands of dollars. But eventually something had to be done. So instead of acknowledging that the FLUM dedicates far too much acreage to Multi-Family zoning, the city reduced the maximum density of Mixed Use, while keeping all 1500 acres of in the FLUM.
This reduction in maximum density helped make multi-family construction in Hayden less attractive to developers, but still leaves an enormous amount of land on track for high density development. How much density? At 12-15 dwellings per acre, the city of Hayden may have to contend with up to 20,000 apartments in a community which now consists of about 8,000 single family homes.
Proponents of Mixed Use Zoning frequently argue that the previous zoning code allowed multi-family development in Commercial zones, and if all commercial property in Hayden was converted to apartments it would add tens of thousands of apartments. But this is a false comparison, because in the old zoning code, ALL high density projects required a special permit, where as the Mixed Use zone type provided for "by-right" high density development.
In any case, densification is a gradual process, and no one thinks that 1500 acres of MU property will be developed overnight. But the "stakeholders" that are behind the push for densification in Hayden have a long-term outlook. It took them decades to destroy the coastal cities of the west, but Mixed Use Upzoning and relentless promotion of multi-family housing is how the process starts.
“BY RIGHT” DEVELOPMENT OF MULTI-FAMILY
But even the dedication of far too much acreage to multi-family, is not the worst problem with the new Comp Plan. The most insidious change to the zoning code involves the "process" by which multi-family housing is permitted. Because the MU zoning code provides for “by-right” development of multi-family property, any parcel that has been rezoned MU can be developed at any time with no public hearing or any means for residents to object.
Until the establishment of the Mixed Use zone type, every multi-family building in Hayden required a Special Use Permit and a public hearing. By this means, the city council could moderate the rate of growth, neighboring property owners could weigh in, and the effects on city infrastructure of new development could be evaluated in a timely manner for every newly proposed property.
“By right” development of multi-family properties strips Hayden residents of any ability to put meaningful brakes on growth and plays into the hands of large corporate real estate firms, whose business model involves consolidating properties and building large multi-use rental complexes. These formidable development corporations have no intention of answering to disgruntled residents or an uncooperative city council, and they have throngs of lawyers, ready to defend the “by right” development rights that the MU zoning code bestows on them.
The issue of “Special Use Permits” versus “By Right” development is discussed in more depth in the Save Hayden article What's SUP? How Hayden Residents Lost Their Voice.
COMPARING OLD AND NEW MULTI-FAMILY
Hayden's previous Multi-family code specified maximum structural density rather than dwellings per acre. As a result, pro-growth advocates frequently claim that the old code permitted absurdly high maximum build-out densities. But this is preposterous, since the maximum structural density of the MU zone code is over twice that of the old code (3 stories, 70% coverage vs. 2 stories 35% coverage). And such selective comparisons ignore the whole permitting process, which allowed the city council to limit multi-family development in the old code.
Because of these complications, and many others, it is simply impossible to do an apples-to-apples comparison of old and new multi-family scenarios. But the following chart shows many of the differences between the old and new Multi-family zones in Hayden, and makes it clear why large developers and investors strongly prefer Mixed Use Zoning.
But even this chart leaves out a few significant factors that are significant for understanding densities and future growth in Hayden. For example:
- A multi-family "dwelling" can be anything be anything from a studio apartment to a residential condo, many times its size.
- The Future Land Use Map defines zoning for hundreds of acres surrounding Hayden that are not currently considered part of the city.
- The FLUM assumes the Huetter bypass will pass through Hayden, and that now appears doubtful.
The whole process of how multi-family development is permitted has changed, the area of city impact has changed, the way zoning codes limit density has changed, and now we find, KMPO's estimates for growth, on which the entire Comprehensive Plan was based, have changed. In short, all claims regarding maximum build-out densities of Hayden are dubious.
THE FUTURE OF MULTI-FAMILY HOUSING IN HAYDEN
To truly reform multi-family zoning in Hayden in a manner that is acceptable to residents, the council needs to address two separate problems with Mixed-Use Zoning: 1) The FLUM reserves too many acres for high density multi-family development, and 2) MU's “By right” privileges make it impossible for the City Council to moderate growth.
The integration of commercial and residential uses in a single parcel could be beneficial, and Hayden’s previous zoning code made this difficult. But it would have been easy to achieve such flexibility by making minor modifications to Hayden’s existing Commercial code. This is not the real purpose of Mixed Use zoning.
The real purpose of the MU zone was to allow for by-right development of multi-family housing for large real-estate investment firms. Such guarantees of development rights are necessary before such companies can buy up large swaths of Hayden real estate to develop it as rental complexes, as they have in every city that provides for Mixed Use zoning.
Hayden’s Comp Plan pays lip service to supporting the “small town character” of Hayden, but its FLUM and zoning code are a give-away to corporate developers and real-estate investors. And the only way to preserve Hayden’s “small town character” is to make the city inhospitable to large developers by requiring “Special Use Permits”, and public hearings for all multi-family development.
The FLUM should be revised to reflect current land uses, especially in existing neighborhoods, and size limits should be put on multi-family developments. Such changes would not diminish anyone’s property rights, as long as provisions for multi-family development were restored to Hayden’s commercial code.
There is a legitimate need for multi-family housing in Hayden, but nothing on the scale envisioned in the 2040 Comp Plan and FLUM. Hayden’s previous Zoning code made perfectly adequate provisions for multi-family housing, and its process of requiring Special Use Permits gave both citizens and the city council an opportunity to moderate growth.
Hayden must reform the FLUM to more closely reflect existing zoning, and restore the protections for the rights of residents that existed in the old zoning codes. These reforms have been discussed since the 2021 City Council races and they are still the only acceptable way forward.
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