Just about everywhere you look, there are new homes going up. Especially in demand are mid-sized homes (in the 1,600 to 2,000 square foot range). Many are priced around $200,000 or so.
As Montrose Planning Director Kerwin Jensen told me, "they can't build them fast enough here."
One of the issues city planners are wrestling with is a lack of connections between subdivisions. This was plainly evident as we drove around Montrose. Roads dead-ended in many places, and sidewalks (when they were present) often failed to connect one development to another. As Kerwin put it, "people like cul-de-sacs, but we've got too many, with very limited connections ... you often can't get anywhere unless you go out onto a busy county road."
[photo above: no road connection has been built here to link to a neighboring subdivision; photo below right: a bicyclist takes his chances on a narrow county road lacking sidewalks or bike lanes]
To Kerwin, one cause of the lack of connections has been a laxness in the approval process in years past, where the city council concurred with developers' requests to forego sidewalk and street connections. As Kerwin explained, it can be hard to see the need for connectivity when there's not much development around you.
But Montrose is quickly filling in. Retrofitting road & sidewalks is a more costly approach, and the city has started requiring connections between subdivisions when new ones are built.
Many subdivisions, when approved, have been legally "burdened" with "SIDs" (special improvement districts). This allows the city to require the homeowners to pay for street improvements and widening when the city deems them necessary. The problem is that this can lead to hefty fees -- often totally unanticipated by homeowners who may not have bought into a subdivision when it was first developed.
[photos above, two different locations, same problem: sidewalks dead end & fail to connect. The one at the right on Niagara Rd., ends just a block from the Townsend Avenue, a major commercial artery]
Kerwin pointed to a subdivison along Niagara Road as we were driving, and told me that homeowners there might have to pony up $1700 to $2400 per lot for needed road improvements. (See an article related to this from the June 22, 2007 Montrose Daily Press). Kerwin told me there may be a push for a 1/2 cent sales tax to cover the costs that the many SIDs scattered throughout the city would otherwise have to absorb. But there are equity concerns about this, especially for people living in areas where the roadways are adequate.
p.s., on Wednesday evening I had the chance to attend a meeting of the Montrose Planning Commission. It was well-run, with clear staff presentations by Roger Shores, the Assistant Planning Director (seen in the photo below left).
The Montrose meeting -- like the commission meetings I attended in O'Fallon, Illinois, and Jefferson City, Missouri -- made effective use of graphics (site plans, maps, and photos). It's good to see this practice, as it allows members of the public to clearly see what's being discussed.
Commission Chairman Frank Casey also reported on work on a new comprehensive plan. One of the main aims is to make it a more useable document. Frank expects that it will be half the length of the current comp plan, and much more focused in its goals, objectives, and policies. It will provide a blueprint to better direct growth in the city. Kerwin also told me that a key part of the new plan will be a focus on needed transportation improvements.
After the meeting, I had the chance to join the commissioners for some food, drinks, and conversation at the Red Barn.
That's another practice I highly recommend -- and something I enjoyed while serving on the Burlington, Vermont, Planning Commission in the 1990s! Its a chance to unwind, and build a sense of comraderie among members of the commission.
[photo, from left to right: Vice Chairman Bob Nicholson; Chairman Frank Casey; Commissioner Moira Collier; and Commissioner Kristine Bagnara; Commissioner Judy Wind was unable to join us]