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All over the map 

From funeral escorts to flood control, councilors eye ways to make a difference in 2014

Like yesterday's newspaper, 2013 will slip into history. Now, it's all about tomorrow, and that means many local leaders will be focused on a very big deal for Colorado Springs, the $250 million City for Champions tourist venture for which the state Economic Development Commission last month approved $120.5 million over 30 years in state sales tax rebates.

City councilors will be part of that mix, but they're also pondering smaller projects that they hope will bring lasting change.

Initiatives range from a clean-up day in the southeast to permitting hoofed stock inside the city, and they stem from Council President Keith King's December memo to Council in which he talked of a "marketing plan" and called for councilors to adopt pet projects in their districts.

"We will encourage each member to collaborate with each other to work in establishing one or more significant initiatives in each of the districts during the first six months of the year," he wrote, adding that the three at-large members should adopt city-wide initiatives.

While councilors have yet to act on King's plan, they have plenty in mind for the city in 2014. Here's what they shared with the Indy by email (unless otherwise noted) during the last couple weeks.

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Don Knight, NW District 1

The retired Air Force colonel says his top priority is the North Nevada Avenue Task Force, a panel on which he serves that was formed by Mayor Steve Bach.

"We have a meeting Thursday afternoon and are just about ready to come out with a plan to run by the public and get their input," he says in a Monday interview. "Basically, what we're looking at, from [where North Nevada meets] I-25 to Fillmore, what should that area look like? I'm kind of the mindset that 50 percent of development should go to support growth of the UCCS campus — service industries for the students, off-campus housing."

He notes that City for Champions includes a sports medicine center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, which will trigger a need for longer-stay hotels as tourists come for treatment.

"The other 50 percent, what I want to do is bring in high-tech medical research companies, businesses that will also work with UCCS in the medical field there, but to bring in salaries above the national average," he says.

The task force has been meeting since late summer and includes representatives from the city, Urban Renewal Authority and the Council of Neighborhoods and Organizations.

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Jill Gaebler, Central District 5

Also entering the second year of her first term, Gaebler, a former nonprofit development director, wants to put a little more country in the city. She wants to foster urban gardening, homesteading, and local food sales by adopting an ordinance "to allow small goats and possibly other hoofed animals within city limits," she writes.

Moreover, she wants to establish a Food Policy Council to set goals for local food production; encourage schools to plant gardens; and promote a local public market "to create more sustainable, local food sources for our community" and "to eliminate the food desert that exists in our city center." (Her husband, Matt Gaebler, is a board member for the Colorado Springs Public Market project.)

Although her district doesn't include the downtown area, she has this idea: "I would also really like to see a greenhouse at the edge of [America the Beautiful] Park that is heated partly from steam from Drake Power Plant. This may just be a pipe dream, but I think we have some great partners, like Pikes Peak Urban Gardens, who will help us accomplish this goal."

Switching gears, Gaebler wants to help revitalize South Academy Boulevard by attracting young professionals and businesses there, building more trails and sidewalks and expanding public transit. "This can be done," she adds, "by providing some business incentives or by reducing regulations."

You might also see Gaebler on her soapbox this year campaigning for water conservation by eliminating city turf in some places, such as medians, and encouraging builders to push xeriscaping instead of lawns at houses they build. And she'll find time to promote the Legacy Loop trail, streetcars and other amenities in the downtown area.

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Keith King, SW District 3

King, a retired state legislator entering his second year on Council, is zeroing in on the west side this year, working with Bennett on "No Man's Land" between Colorado Springs' city limit on West Colorado Avenue and Manitou Springs. "A solution would be to develop form-based zoning from Manitou Springs past old Colorado City," he writes to the Indy.

According to the Form-Based Codes Institute, this zoning tool regulates form and scale, and, therefore, character, of development, rather than strictly land-use types.

King also will get involved in development of a site in Old Colorado City that earlier was eyed but later abandoned by the Kum & Go convenience store chain.

"Finally, I would like to see if we can do some angel funding for startup businesses in Colorado Springs with a focus on medical equipment and electronic startups," he says.

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Joel Miller, North District 2

Miller, an Air Force Academy grad who flies for the Colorado Air National Guard and FedEx, enters his second year on Council by pushing for a "complete review" of the city's special-district policy that has created a haves-and-have-nots scenario, depending on where residents live. For example, some special districts provide parks and other amenities, while the rest of the city is left to rely on the city's oft-besieged parks budget.

Special districts impose property tax rates up to 10 times that of the city at large, and they're often overseen by developers or their hand-picked representatives. Miller says he wants to look at how they're formed, governed and "even the overall philosophy of how 40-mill district mill levies affect the business climate in our City," because the dozens of districts seem to have grown "completely unchecked."

He's also concerned about Fire Station 22, scheduled to be built next year without new money for staffing ("A splash of cold water," News, Dec. 11). "Some residents in the district are taxed three times what other residents pay in City property tax to be part of the Wescott Fire [Protection] District in order to have adequate fire protection," he explains. "According to the annexation agreement, once Station 22 is staffed and operational, the legal process to exclude this area of town from Wescott can begin in order [to] bring property taxes down to the level of the rest of the City."

Speaking of fire, Miller also has his eye on finding ways to detect and suppress wildland fire early: "I've been attending meetings with potential stakeholders to try to move that effort along."

Lastly, Miller, a critic of the City for Champions, will continue his analysis of the plan and wants to convince his fellow councilors "that prior to approving any elements of public financing to pay City for Champions — elements that would ultimately divert hundreds of millions of dollars of funding from local public sources — the public deserves an opportunity to vote (on a ballot) on both the projects themselves and the plan of finance of how our community will pay for them."

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Andy Pico, East District 6

A freshman councilor who retired from the Navy as a flight officer, Pico says he's taking his cues from his constituents.

"The only projects that constituents have discussed with me so far are storm water projects and streetlights," he says. "I've been working with city staff to identify which can be done under current schedules."

He's also interested in figuring out what comes next for the Banning Lewis Ranch, the 23,000-acre swath of eastern Colorado Springs that remains largely undeveloped. A Houston oil company owns much of the land and had planned to drill for oil and gas, but testing led the firm to abandon those plans.

While Pico says the jury is out on King's marketing plan, he's in favor of identifying projects and getting to work.

"All the budget in-fighting has pulled our attention off of the big priorities," he says, "and I think we do need to refocus on what is more critical for the city in the long haul."

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Helen Collins, SE District 4

Collins, a retired career Navy cryptologist, begins her second year hoping that Council's generosity to the Police Department — it will get nearly $5 million more this year than in 2013 — pays off in her district, known as a high-crime area. "I expect great police response in southeast and throughout the city," she says.

Collins spearheaded a clean-up effort in Maryland some years ago and is ready to do the same in her district, she says, if the idea is well-received during an upcoming town hall meeting.

On another matter, she'll have her hands full opposing City for Champions and tax increment financing, or TIF. Council must vote on allowing TIF to be used to fund the downtown projects and on boundary changes of the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Area. The tax money generated by the new development beyond existing levels would be used to retire debt of up to $100 million, backers have said.

But that funding scheme won't get Collins' support. "I'm not a fan of putting children and grandchildren under massive debt for the sake of greedy developers," she says. "I spoke with two citizens who moved here from Detroit and they stated they're seeing the same pattern of economic decline!"

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Merv Bennett, at large

Bennett, a retired YMCA executive entering the last year of his first four-year term, wants to focus on assuring City for Champions is "successful and financially viable."

"As a member of Council and also a member of the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Board," Bennett says, "I will work collaboratively and constructively with the leadership of this concept to make it a success for Colorado Springs."

Bennett's other chief concern will be the Colorado Springs Health Foundation, created to oversee proceeds from the lease of city-owned Memorial Hospital to University of Colorado Health. Most of the money, $259 million, is on ice pending resolution of a lawsuit with the Public Employees' Retirement Association, which insists it be paid to assure ongoing benefits are paid to Memorial's retirees. The city contends it owes PERA nothing. Bennett says he doesn't know how close the case is to being resolved, but the Council hopes to know more by March.

Bennett also wants to seek a sustainable flood-control solution and help the Regional Business Alliance bring jobs to the region.

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Val Snider, at large

Entering the final year of his first term, former Air Force officer Val Snider says he has three priorities: regional flood control, deciding the Drake plant's future, and capitalizing on Colorado Springs Utilities as an economic development tool.

"Stormwater is a regional problem that needs a regional solution," Snider says, adding that the Regional Stormwater Task Force, of which he's a member, is expected to issue a recommendation soon.

"Failure to properly manage stormwater has put our public and private infrastructure at risk, and has increased long-term repair costs," he says. "Preventing future problems is far more cost-effective than trying to restore after flood damage has occurred." He also notes that Colorado Springs is the largest municipality in the state without a comprehensive stormwater management program.

Snider also wants Utilities to have a "more formal role" in regional economic development, but hasn't elaborated on what that role might be.

click to enlarge South Academy Boulevard has long been twisting in the wind; Jill Gaebler wants that to change. - BRYCE CRAWFORD
  • Bryce Crawford
  • South Academy Boulevard has long been twisting in the wind; Jill Gaebler wants that to change.

Jan Martin, at large

Beginning her final year on Council due to term limits, the small-business owner is looking at the big picture. She pledges to focus on creating jobs by removing barriers for small businesses; finding a "collaborative solution" for the city's flood control needs; and starting to plan for what's to become of the downtown Martin Drake Power Plant now that a $500,000 study is completed, she says.

She'll also work on refining how the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax Advisory Committee chooses and holds accountable recipients of some $4 million a year in tax money. Last year, seeking more accountability, Council initially withheld funds from the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Regional Business Alliance; Mayor Steve Bach vetoed that decision.

Meanwhile, Martin also has a couple of smaller projects in mind: Licensing private funeral escorts to relieve police of this task, and working with Councilor Jill Gaebler on the framework for "waste-free" events in Colorado Springs.

zubeck@csindy.com

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