It's been a while since we had a knock-down, drag-out, neighborhood/developer fight. Remember those days of yore, when "developer" was always prefaced by "greedy"? Big-money guys (they were always guys) would buy up property, draw up plans and try to ram them through the approval process.
Kum & Go, a Midwestern convenience store chain, actually is to other convenience stores as Costco is to Albertsons. It has opened 10 locations in the Pikes Peak region and plans more. One is going up on South Nevada Avenue; another is planned for 21st Street, not far south of U.S. Highway 24.
Kum & Go also has made a deal with Goodwill to buy a 2.3-acre parcel on the south side of Colorado Avenue between 23rd and 24th streets, just steps from the historic heart of Old Colorado City. Neighbors are appalled, Goodwill executives are shedding crocodile tears over the sad necessity of selling the site to the highest bidder, and the order of battle is clear.
On the side of progress, prosperity and unfettered capitalism: Kum & Go, Goodwill Industries, Mayor Steve Bach and irascible Old Colorado City savior Dave Hughes.
Hughes, who recently threatened the city with secession for relocating the OCC Farmers Market from 24th Street to adjacent Bancroft Park, unaccountably believes that a giant 10-pump, 24-7-365 convenience store perfectly complements Old Colorado City's historic architecture, as long as somebody paints a mural on some random wall.
Mayor Bach cheerfully lined up with Kum & Go. "Dave, thank you for your continuing tremendous inspirational leadership," he wrote to Hughes in an email, which Hughes forwarded to me. "Your willingness to embrace change in Old Colorado City while honoring its very rich important history should be an example to all who cherish its past."
Dave, Dave — what are you thinking? And Mayor Bach — you're full of it! Not that it matters what you think, since City Council has sole responsibility for land-use decisions.
On the side of progress, prosperity, historic preservation and heritage tourism: County Commissioner Sallie Clark, her activist husband Welling Clark, the board of the Organization of Westside Neighbors, and more than 600 area residents who already have signed an online statement of opposition circulated by Sue Spengler, who founded the Little School on Vermijo.
Still uncommitted: members of the City Planning Commission, City Council and city planning staff. At stake: not just the fate of a single block on Colorado Avenue, but the long future of our city's oldest neighborhood.
Old Colorado City is our only intact Victorian commercial district, both a neighborhood center and visitor destination. Paradoxically, the neighborhood is more modern than the Springs' beige-toned suburbs: Its century-old layout is better aligned with the desires and priorities of young adults, including the young professionals the city so yearns to attract and keep.
Look at areas reclaimed by urban pioneers in other cities, such as the Highland in Denver. Their parents raised them in car-dependent suburbs, but today's 20-somethings want diverse, affordable, walkable neighborhoods. They'd just as soon bike to work or take the bus, and they love quirky, locally owned businesses that cater to their tastes.
That's one of many reasons why city elected officials should strive to preserve and enhance Old Colorado City and the west side, and reject incompatible uses along Colorado Avenue. Imagine that once-grand boulevard fully reclaimed, with wide sidewalks, lower traffic velocities, and a consistent, harmonious streetscape. A revitalized west side could draw far more young professionals than any downtown mega-project.
And what about Goodwill's leaders? Don't they have the right to sell their property to the highest bidder? Of course — but keep in mind that the organization doesn't pay property taxes, and won't owe capital gains on the sale.
It's reminiscent of 1961, when a Cascade Avenue cottage built in 1873 by Winfield Scott Stratton for Maj. Henry McAllister was threatened with demolition. New owners thought that a rental cottage was hardly the best use of the property — what the market called for was ... a gas station!
Thanks to the efforts of appalled residents, McAllister House was purchased, preserved and renovated, a still-enduring gift to us from the past.
What will we give to the future? It's up to us.
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