The city of Laramie’s Planning Commission advanced a proposal last week to amend the city’s regulations for buildings within the downtown district, which includes 25 city blocks.
If the new design amendments are passed, existing buildings would only need to be renovated to conform to the new rules when there’s a significant enough change of use that would require, under the city’s site planning regulations, having a building brought up to code.
Stricter rulesThe updated standards, which still need approval from city council, would not allow any storefront to utilize stucco, natural-finished wood, synthetic stone or metal siding.
A non-storefront facade that faces another right-of-way would be allowed to have stucco or synthetic stone occupy up to 20% of the facade.
Assistant city planner Matthew Cox told the planning board that the metal siding ban doesn’t apply to architectural steel and other “durable metal.”
“Ensuring that our facades are aesthetically appealing and high quality creates a more vibrant area of town and a place that locals and business owners can appreciate more,” city staff wrote in their report. “The reason for choosing to prohibit the materials below are that they are not of historic nature and have already been prohibited within our gateway Overlay Zones and along Collector and Arterial Streets.”
A building would also be required to take up 80% of the square footage of the lot it occupies. A patio could constitute 20% of the required footprint.
In a district intended to be Laramie’s most dense, Cox said the city wants to discourage a building the size of the Laramie Vision Clinic.
“It is a terrible use of land,” Cox said. “It’s very inefficient and takes a massive lot within our DC district. They built a one-story building that was half a lot and only has room for one business.”
The changes would also greatly increase the amount of transparent windows that must be present on buildings’ facades.
“Transparent storefronts increase the visibility of retail uses and in turn increase pedestrian activity and sales for these retailers,” the staff report states. “A transparent storefront welcomes customers inside with products and services on display, discourages crime with more ‘eyes on the street’, reduces energy consumption by letting in natural light, and enhances curb appeal and value of the store and the entire neighborhood.”
Currently, only 10% of a facade facing a street must be composed from transparent materials.
The proposed changes would require 70% of a street-facing facade to be composed from transparent materials, and the lowest edge of transparency can be no more than two feet off the ground.
Floors above the ground floor would need to be 50% percent transparent, with a minimum of four-foot tall windows.
“Allowing more light into those places is just a healthier way of living,” Cox said.
However, buildings could be exempted from the window requirement by applying for a waiver on the grounds that the building is historical or culturally significant.
Cox said that some of the downtown’s buildings, like the one on the northwest corner of Second Street and Grand Avenue, would probably merit being granted an exemption.
Conversely, the building on the southwest corner of Second and Grand probably wouldn’t be found “historical or culturally significant.”
“That whole side along Grand Avenue is all stucco,” Cox said. “It’s a pretty new structure. I personally don’t see it having any culturally significant aspects to it and would recommend all the floors above the ground floor would have the 50% windows.”
The proposed regulations include rules for the design and construction of a business’s patio.
Cox said those regulations were partially inspired by the nuisance concerns the city had with the now-closed bar Shocktoberfest, whose outdoor patio on the southeast corner of Grand Avenue and Third Street received an “emergency abatement” from the city in 2017.
The code changes would also ban the use of temporary signs and banners, except signs advertising — for a brief period — special events.
“Temporary banners are a non-aesthetic part of our downtown that have been allowed to persist without serious time stipulations, allowing storefronts to avoid signage that would actually benefit the vibrancy of our downtown,” staff wrote in their report.
“What we don’t want is a grand opening sign being outside for two or three months,” Cox said.
Currently, there is no minimum building height.
While it would be a requirement applying only to new buildings, the proposed changes include a minimum height for buildings of 30 feet.
“That means that if (a building) has to be brought to code, they don’t have have add another story or anything,” Cox told the planning board last week.
The proposed revisions would allow for downtown buildings to be taller than currently allowed while setting a two-story minimum height.
Currently, proposed new buildings can be no taller than the tallest existing structure on that block.
The proposed changes would set a maximum height of 80 feet — one story taller than the Wagner building. Staff told members of the planning commission that the change would allow for density to increase, promoting efficient use of the land.
The proposed regulations would also allow for signs that protrude from a storefront to be larger than the current regulations.
“Staff has found that the maximum size allowed for protruding signs within the DC district is very limiting and staff and community partners believe that protruding signs can positively impact the aesthetics and marketing ability of businesses and uses in downtown,” the staff report states. “Protruding signs allow for a visual reference when looking down the street rather than having to be right in front of the store”
The current rule states that projecting signs can only go a third of the way from a building to the curb and should not exceed 15 square feet.
The proposed changes would allow projecting signs to protrude halfway to the curb, with a size limit of 30 square feet.
Corner projecting signs would be allowed to be as large as 45 square feet, which could be a useful addition for some businesses, Cox said.
“One really good example is the Accomplice sign,” he said. “You don’t really notice it until you’re right on top of it, and they have a huge facade to work with.”
The proposed change also would remove a rule in code that allows a building downtown to be no larger than 65,000 square feet.
Laramie’s downtown district encompasses all blocks between First and Fourth streets that lie south of Clark Street and north of Kearney Street. The district also consists of two blocks south of Kearney along Second Street and the two blocks east of Fourth Street along Grand Avenue.
The planning board passed the proposed regulations unanimously, though planning board member Maura Hanning did acknowledge concerns about how the proposed regulations might hinder new businesses.
While those concerns might be valid, city planner Derek Teini said the amendments were in the downtown area’s best long-term interests.
“Ensuring that we get a building that meet these pretty fundamental guidelines for downtown is, long-term, more important than ensuring that one person has enough financing for a project because they couldn’t do a building with windows,” Teini said. “It’s a tough balance. … Every time we look at something like landscaping or building design … all of those have the backdrop of ‘how do these things impact business?’”