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Parks money spread, commissioners throw weight around, more 

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Money flowing into parks

Playing fields, Memorial Park tennis courts and various playgrounds are among the beneficiaries of additional funding the Colorado Springs City Council was expected to approve Tuesday after the Indy's press deadline.

The city Parks Department proposed spending $4.2 million from the Trails, Open Space and Parks tax on maintenance and development. That money will go toward parks upkeep ($532,000), installation of artificial turf on playing fields at Sky View Sports Complex and El Pomar Youth Sports Park ($2.2 million), playgrounds and irrigation renovation ($250,000 each), and work on Memorial Park's tennis courts ($1 million).

In addition, $250,000 from the park land dedication ordinance is proposed to be spent building two handball courts at Memorial Park.

Lastly, parks officials proposed spending $1.4 million from the Conservation Trust Fund, generated through a per capita share of money from the Colorado State Lottery. The money will repair playgrounds, add improvements to make parks accessible to those with disabilities and renovate buildings. — Pam Zubeck

Progress at Norris-Penrose

Leaders of Norris-Penrose Event Center have hired Kodiak Development Group, a Colorado Springs firm that specializes in stormwater and erosion control compliance, to prepare a mitigation plan for the site.

Event center officials are under the eye of city engineering after taking in 40,000 cubic yards of dirt for a new arena without submitting a development plan to the city for drainage and erosion control ("Ground rules," News, May 29, 2013). The center's general manager, Johnny Walker, says the center has since obtained a permit for a grading plan and hopes to complete the erosion control portion this summer.

"We had to have the entire property surveyed," Walker says. "We've met with the city many times. Kodiak has met with the city several times. We're coming together to determine the best way to move forward."

He notes some improvements are made necessary by things that were done to the property before the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Foundation obtained it from El Paso County in 2005.

Colorado Springs Utilities' Steve Berry reports that following the Independent's story, "more progress is being made" on various issues, including how to deal with a fire hydrant that was almost buried by the fill dirt. — Pam Zubeck

County commissioners power up

El Paso County commissioners have granted themselves sweeping powers over issues related to water projects and improvements.

Following a public hearing, the Commissioners voted 4-0 Thursday (with Vice Chair Amy Lathen excused) to claim "1041 powers," which are available to statutory counties by state law. The new powers mean that the county now has a say in water projects of "statewide importance." The county plans to claim additional 1041 powers in relation to transit, road and floodplain projects at a later date.

While county officials say 1041 powers will be rarely invoked — and are intended to protect county interests in extreme cases — the move drew widespread criticism from Colorado Springs leaders, officials from other municipalities and those in the utilities and development sectors. Many said the 1041 would impose yet another layer of regulations and approvals, and city officials were concerned that it could impede projects. —J. Adrian Stanley

$19 million for watersheds

The federal government has announced it will provide $19 million for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program for recovery from the Waldo Canyon and High Park fires.

The allocation is part of an additional $66.8 million in EWPP funds to help disaster recovery efforts in 15 states. Colorado got the biggest allocation.

Said the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a news release: "Examples of conditions qualifying for assistance include: debris-clogged stream channels, undermined and unstable stream banks, jeopardized water control structures and public infrastructures, and wind-borne debris removal."

It wasn't immediately known how much of the money would address Waldo Canyon Fire issues, and how much would be allocated in the High Park Fire area, near Fort Collins. — Pam Zubeck

Woe is South Academy

In efforts to reverse the declining South Academy Boulevard area, 18 months ago the city adopted the plan officials hoped would stir economic development and community vitality between Maizeland and Drennan roads.

Things aren't happening as fast as city officials had hoped. In a report given to City Council this week, city planners note that fewer hours of bus service are available than in 2008, commercial space remains empty with more stores closing, office vacancies are on the rise, crime rates remain higher than the city average, and high school test scores are declining.

But there are a few glimmers of hope. Traffic volumes are steadily increasing, some streetscapes and building facades have been improved, the unemployment rate in the corridor "may still be lower" than the city as a whole, and the population is rising.

City planner Peter Wysocki tells Council it would be helpful to look at an "incubator-type project" that would help stimulate development. Positive signals include the opening of Lowe's, a Wal-Mart market, Ace Hardware, Taco Bell and Kum & Go. In addition, Discover Goodwill plans a facility, and Harrison District 2's Atlas Preparatory School plans to take over a vacant building. — Pam Zubeck

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