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It takes a village 

UCCS students, others want developer to forgo big-box stores on North Nevada

click to enlarge CU students at Boulder have been enjoying The Hill next - to campus for decades. - THESINK.COM
  • thesink.com
  • CU students at Boulder have been enjoying The Hill next to campus for decades.

Two months ago, UCCS student Angela Saunkeah heard that her school and the city of Colorado Springs had made plans to create a "university village" close to campus.

Saunkeah imagined the area being filled with coffee shops, bookstores and maybe even a sushi bar. In her mind, it would be a cozy little social enclave.

Those images vanished a few weeks ago when Saunkeah learned the proposed village would be anchored by two big-box chain stores, Costco and Lowe's.

"I don't understand why they have to put these stores in what is supposed to be a social environment," says Saunkeah, who will enter her junior year in the fall.

"University Village was going to be a place near campus that students could roam on the weekends and even during the week."

The University Village Urban Renewal Project, which was originally called the North Nevada Avenue Corridor Reinvestment Plan, is slated for the west side of North Nevada, just before the avenue ends and becomes Interstate 25. For decades, this land has been home to small motels and local businesses.

In 2004, the renewal plan was approved by the Colorado Springs City Council, and the idea of creating a university village near the UCCS campus surfaced. Kratt Commercial Properties bought most of the small businesses along the strip and coined the new development plan "University Village." Among other things, the plan called for "opportunities to ... provide architectural diversity ... and pedestrian linkages from the corridor to Monument Creek and other open areas."

Today, Kratt's plan includes a 3,500-car parking lot for the suburban-style retail center. The buildings won't be diverse, nor will they link to Monument Creek, which borders the land. The layout is such that the main stores' back portions will face the creek.

"[Kratt developers] need to make some dramatic changes to the current plan, in order to make access more compatible to the Monument Creek trail," says James Mayerl, the Colorado Springs city planner in charge of granting approval for Kratt to begin construction. "It needs to become more pedestrian-friendly in its layout."

Mayerl has written a letter to Kratt disclosing his concerns about the current plan. Until those concerns are addressed, the approval will be stalled.

Survey says ...

This spring at UCCS, senior Jackie Rockwell wanted students at the university to become aware of the new plans for University Village. Rockwell conducted a survey of 400 students, asking them to choose their ideal village from one of four images. About 83 percent of the students surveyed chose a pedestrian-friendly setting consisting of sidewalk shops and local restaurants. Only 2 percent chose a suburban-style retail center with a large parking lot.

"The current design is not sustainable," says Rockwell, who just graduated with a degree in geography and sustainable development. "What we are going to see here is just another Academy Boulevard. It won't be unique at all, and we won't be taking advantage of this prime piece of land."

In the survey, students also emphasized University Village's potential to help student retention. About 330 of the students surveyed felt that by having a pedestrian-friendly University Village, prospective students will choose to attend UCCS, and those students already at the university will stay.

"This survey clearly shows what a good portion of the students want," says Rockwell. "Now it's time for students and administration to get involved, so that we can save this part of Colorado Springs from looking like a typical suburban subdivision."

A vacant look?

Since Kratt owns the land, UCCS does not have a direct say in how it is developed. Still, university officials have not done much to encourage Kratt to reconsider its current plan, says John Harner, an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at UCCS.

"It has been hard to try and get the university to attempt to get this plan changed," explains Harner, who recently wrote a column on the subject in the Independent ("UCCS dream turns sterile," Your Turn, csindy.com/csindy/2007-04-26/yourturn.html). "The university is pro-growth, even if the growth is not well thought-out. This development plan, if it goes forth, will stamp the university as a commuter school, lacking a unique identity like other universities."

Harner adds that these typical suburban developments have short life spans ranging between 15 and 25 years. After that, the retail center will likely become a large, vacant piece of property. By comparison, students at the University of Colorado in Boulder for decades have been taking advantage of The Hill, a still-thriving area of stores, shops, bars and restaurants next to campus.

"With urban development, one must look at different aspects such as economic, social and environmental," added Harner. "This plan only addresses the economic aspect, and ignores the social and environmental aspects, which will have a longer-lasting effect."

Saunkeah believes the university has lacked a unique identity and views the proposed University Village as a missed opportunity.

"University Village needs to look different than all of the suburban shopping malls that are in Colorado Springs," says Saunkeah.

"It just doesn't make sense to name a place "University Village' when it has a Costco and Lowe's in it."

kurtis@csindy.com

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