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Public Enemy No. 1 

City hopes to control growth through Comprehensive Plan

click to enlarge "We are late in our planning efforts and Im sure thats very disheartening" - City Planner Quinn Peitz - CREIGHTON SMITH
  • Creighton Smith
  • "We are late in our planning efforts and Im sure thats very disheartening" - City Planner Quinn Peitz

Just as in nearly every cranny of the state, the people of Colorado Springs believe that their local government is falling far short of responsibly managing growth and development.

The results of an $18,200 Citizen Survey, paid for by the city government and released this week, shows a clear and growing frustration with the side effects of growth, and the city's response to managing it.

An overwhelming majority of residents polled -- 61 percent -- believe that theCity is not managing the booming growth that is entering its second booming decade.

"Growth in and of itself is rarely an issue with people unless its consequences spill over and affect their lives," noted the report, conducted by Boulder-based pollsters Talmey-Drake. "It is how well growth is managed that people care most about.

"In Colorado Springs, the perception of how well growth is being managed remains predominantly negative, and has become slightly more negative over the past two years."


Get off my land

In 1960, Colorado Springs had a population of about 40,000. Forty years later, the city and its surrounding region is fast approaching a burgeoning half million. Until recently, city leaders have allowed people and developers to do just about whatever they wanted with their properties. That mentality stems, city planners say, from the free-market attitude of those who believe they should not be regulated in any way in developing private property.

As a result, the city has quickly sprawled outward without any methodical approach to design standards or controls over the big picture of what Colorado Springs should look like when it grows up. The city, essentially, has become a haphazard mix of whatever developers envisioned for their particular properties -- in some cases small parcels and in others, vast tracts of land.

On March 27, the Colorado Springs City Council adopted its first Comprehensive Plan in a decade, a document they hope will serve as a specific guide to how Colorado Springs should grow over the next 20 years. But the non-binding plan will only have teeth if the City Council, the City Planning Commission and other boards and commissions adhere to its guidelines.

For example, several years ago the City Council adopted a Geohazard Ordinance that restricts developers from building in landslide areas. Yet the same governing body has continued to approve projects to be built on unstable land.

City Planner Quinn Peitz insists, "We've gotten better at enforcing current requirements," but he conceded that a strict enforcement campaign is necessary for the Comprehensive Plan to succeed.

"We are late in our planning efforts and I'm sure that's very disheartening to many people," Peitz said. "This is a quantum leap for us -- not the panacea but a good effort to put our arms around the entire city and apply growth plans."


From suburban to urban

The plan incorporates a decidedly more urban mixed-use model of land use than the suburban sprawl that has characterized Colorado Springs in the past decade.

And, though the city's builders and developers will have to make adjustments, Peitz said citizens themselves will have the longest learning curve adjusting to living in another kind of city.

"Now we have to rethink our community and it's something we're not accustomed to," Peitz said. "We'll be driving less, living closer together. It's changing our way of life from a suburban area to urban."

Though growth planning is coming late, fully 40 percent of the city's land mass is vacant, points out Comprehensive Planning manager Ira Joseph. In large part because of massive land annexations in the 1980s, Colorado Springs is the largest city, by land mass, in the state.

"There's plenty of opportunity to do things differently," Joseph said.

It was only about five years ago, Joseph said, that the political climate became ripe for planning. Other Colorado cities, including Fort Collins and Boulder, have been far more proactive in visualizing what they wanted to look like and install measures to get there, he said.

Colorado Springs, unlike planned communities like Vail (with its faux Austrian architectural style) and Santa Fe, N.M. (with its Southwest style) has no specific, identifiable "look," and probably never will. But Peitz and Joseph said the Comprehensive Plan is a tool that will enable the City to direct development. Among other guidelines, the plan will allow city staff to identify what different parts of town should look like and then incorporate design standards that developers will have to adhere to when building out those areas.

In addition, Peitz pointed out that Colorado Springs has, in the past, promoted development that discourages mixed use. Most Colorado Springs residents are forced to get in their cars and drive everywhere. But City leaders want to shift to a mixed-use approach, where people can live, work, shop and play in the same general area.

The alternative, Peitz noted, is sprawl that is hard on the environment and requires city taxpayers to pay for municipal services, roads and infrastructure over a much larger geographic area.


A certain urgency

The City had initially envisioned a four-year implementation for its Comprehensive Plan. But some city officials are pushing to get it on a fast track, citing certain urgency to install it sooner than later.

"The momentum for this has really built and if we drag it out another three years then we will have lost institutional memory and then it could die," said Councilman Ted Eastburn during a recent Council discussion of the plan. He, and other Council members, would prefer the plan be in place in as soon as a year.

Eastburn cited likely turnover on the City Council, the Comprehensive Plan's task force and city personnel -- as well as public clamoring -- as reasons to forge ahead. "Citizens want growth management and we need to move quickly, rapidly and with urgency."

Council members Charles Wingate and Richard Skorman also said they support having the plan implemented and on the books. "Some form of expediency might be beneficial not just for us, but for development [interests] to integrate into their plans," Wingate said.

During the discussion, Eastburn and other Council members rejected an idea, floated by Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, of first turning over the proposal to yet another public or citizen task force for further reviews.

"We can't get bogged down; we've done all that and now is the time to move," he said.

Maps of the city's existing land use and planned land use, and the Comprehensive Plan, can be viewed online at the City of Colorado Springs' Web site at

www.colorado-springs.com.

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