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Leaping backward 

Proposed cuts threaten long-term city planning, historic preservation

click to enlarge Richard Skorman
  • Richard Skorman

When the Colorado Springs City Council adopted its "comprehensive plan" -- a blueprint for the future growth of the city -- then-city Planning Director Quinn Peitz called it a "quantum leap."

The idea behind the plan, approved two and a half years ago, was to change the city's growth pattern from one of random suburban sprawl to one of carefully guided urban development designed to preserve historic character, decrease residents' reliance on the automobile, and hold down infrastructure costs.

Now, it appears the leap may be halted in midair.

In his list of proposed budget cuts to be considered by the City Council in coming weeks, City Manager Lorne Kramer recommends decimating the staff whose job it is to actually implement the comprehensive plan. The cuts are part of a $20-million overall reduction in the city's budget, made necessary by falling sales-tax revenues.

The number of "senior" planners in the Planning Department's comprehensive-planning division would be slashed from four to just one, though one of the three lost positions would be replaced with a lower-level planner position. Overall, the division's staff would be cut from seven positions to four and a half.

As a result, many parts of the comprehensive plan -- which city officials, staff and volunteers spent more than three years developing -- could be shelved.

"We won't have the staff to be able to implement a lot of the portions of the comp plan," said Bill Healy, who replaced Peitz as planning director last year. "It's not abandoning it, but it's certainly scaling it back."

A huge concern

Meanwhile, staff in the Planning Department's development review division, which processes land-use applications from real-estate developers, won't be reduced.

At least two City Council members are expressing concern about delaying implementation of the comprehensive plan. Vice Mayor Richard Skorman said such a move would be "really shortsighted."

"All the polls, including our own surveys, show that growth is still a huge concern of the public," Skorman said. The comprehensive plan "was a document that wasn't meant to be just put on a shelf and ignored; it was meant to be implemented, with teeth. This is disturbing to me."

Councilwoman Margaret Radford noted that the city spent "a lot of time, and more importantly, a lot of resources" developing the plan.

Deputy City Manager Dave Nickerson, meanwhile, defended the cuts. Faced with a huge budget shortfall, the city has to concentrate on immediate concerns rather than long-term planning, he said.

"We need to deal with the 'right here and now,' first," Nickerson said.

Character endangered

The comprehensive plan isn't the only planning activity that's likely to suffer if the Council approves the proposed cuts.

One of the senior planner positions to be axed is that of Tim Scanlon, an 18-year veteran of the department, who has been in charge of the city's historic-preservation program. Scanlon assists the city's all-volunteer Historic Preservation Board, conducts surveys of historic neighborhoods, reviews building-permit applications for buildings designated as historic, and manages a tax-credit program for rehabilitation of historic structures.

Though his job would be eliminated, Scanlon would have the option of applying for the new, lower-level planner position in the department. If he ends up in that job, he would probably still be responsible for historic preservation, Healy said.

"The attention to historic preservation is not going to go away," Healy pledged. "We're going to continue that."

Still, local preservationists expressed alarm.

"I was really sad when I learned that Tim Scanlon's job was going to be cut, and pretty angry," said Joyce Stivers, director of the Historic Preservation Alliance, an independent organization. "With the elimination of his position goes, also, any support of the Historic Preservation Board."

Abandoning historic preservation would be a mistake, Stivers argued. "We're endangering our city's historic character, which is what brings a lot of tourism to Colorado Springs."

Scanlon himself declined to comment on any concerns about his position being cut.

-- Terje Langeland

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