RetoolCOS is the major rewriting of the zoning codes in Colorado Springs. The “final draft” of RetoolCOS, dated August 2022, has been released and is scheduled to be voted upon this fall by the city planning commission and then the City Council.
There is a major change in the “Final Draft” that should be of interest to homeowners in the older neighborhoods surrounding downtown Colorado Springs. The change would eliminate maximum lot coverage requirements in all residential zones in Colorado Springs and simultaneously, in some zones, reduce front yard and backyard setbacks.
Most homeowners in Colorado Springs have probably never heard of maximum lot coverage requirements. That is unfortunate, because lot coverage requirements have a major effect on the appearance and character of our older neighborhoods.
If lot coverage requirements are eliminated in all the residential zones in Colorado Springs, only front yard, side yard, and backyard setbacks will remain to limit the amount of a residential lot that can be built upon. This will allow property owners in older neighborhoods to build large buildings on relatively small residential lots.
Maximum lot coverage requirements set a percentage limit on how much of a residential lot can be built upon. It is customarily set at about 20% to 50% of the lot here in Colorado Springs. It has a major effect on the appearance, use, and livability of residential neighborhoods. Maximum lot coverage requirements are what guarantee ample front yards and beautiful open backyards that are ideal for families.
If the main structure can only cover 30% of the lot, then the other 70% must be open space in the front yard, side yards, and backyard. This space is often used for flagstone patios, or croquet courts, or badminton nets, or rose gardens, or touch football, or children’s play areas, or whatever outdoor activities the family occupying the home might be into at the time.
When maximum lot coverage requirements are removed, part of the front yard and almost all of the backyard can be built upon. Property owners will be tempted to fill the backyard with additional built living space, and perhaps part of the front yard as well.
Over the ensuing years, the entire look and feel of the residential neighborhood will be changed from open and spacious to a more jammed look and feel. The amount of landscaped open space round the houses will have been greatly reduced.
What is feared the most with the removal of maximum lot coverage requirements is that speculators will buy an older home in an older neighborhood, “scrape off” (tear down) the historic house that has occupied the property for many years (sometimes for more than 100 years), and then build a large new structure on the site that is only restricted in building size by front yard, side yard, and backyard setback requirements.
Not only does the final draft of RetoolCOS eliminate maximum lot coverage requirements, it also reduces front yard and backyard setback requirements. Setback requirements are used to prevent residential homes from being built right out to the front edge of the sidewalk in the front yard, directly next to the alley or the property line in the backyard, and right next to the house next door in the side yard .
Setback requirements further add to the open and spacious look of the house as it sits on its building lot.
Front yard setbacks are particularly important. They determine the streetscape appearance of the neighborhood as people walk or drive down the street.
But look what RetoolCOS does with setback requirements in the R-2 (two-family) zone. It reduces the current front yard setback requirement from 25 feet to 10 feet. It drops the backyard setback requirement from 25 feet to 15 feet. Those reductions allow for a bigger building with much less open space in front of it and in back of it.
R-2 two-family zoning is one of the most widely used zones in Colorado Springs, especially in the historic older neighborhoods that surround the downtown area. Some of the neighborhoods with large amounts of R-2 zoned homes are Middle Shooks Run, Divine Redeemer, Patty Jewett, the Old North End, and the West Side.
One of the major causes of substandard housing (slums) in American cities is the failure to provide sufficient open space around individual homes. We are fortunate in Colorado Springs that so much of our older downtown-area housing conforms to maximum lot coverage requirements combined with ample front yard and backyard setbacks. Eliminating them would make our center city neighborhoods more built up and much less attractive.
If you oppose the removal of maximum lot coverage restrictions from all residential zones in Colorado Springs, you should tell City Council about that. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You should also email them if you do not want to see front yard and backyard setbacks reduced in the R-2 (two-family) zone.
Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy write about Colorado and national politics. Bob Loevy served on the city Planning Commission in the early 1970s.