Roundabouts can slow traffic and reduce crashes. But having one next to the World Arena, where a four-lane road already narrows to two? Seems like Colorado College hockey fans and concertgoers could be stuck there forever.
Those who use Venetucci Boulevard every day for a living — namely truckers — aren't crazy about the idea, either. They say the roundabout will cost them time and money, and could eventually shut down a busy truck route, causing them to drive further, burn more fuel and cause more pollution.
Still, El Paso County planning commissioners are unanimous in wanting a roundabout at Venetucci and Bob Johnson Drive, and will see county commissioners consider it June 9 as part of a proposal for a dorm-style apartment complex across from the arena.
"You put a few cars and a few trucks in there with traffic cycling, you're gonna have traffic on a good day plumb out to Lake [Avenue]," says Tim Peters, trucking operations manager at Rocky Mountain Materials and Asphalt. "There's going to be multiple accidents. If you have an accident in a roundabout, traffic is deadlocked. You're not going anywhere for a long time."
At issue is Independence Place at Cheyenne Mountain, an idea for eight apartment buildings with 240 units on 15.4 acres of land west of Venetucci and south of Cheyenne Meadows Road. The land is owned by Peoples National Bank, which foreclosed last year on embattled developer Ray Marshall, and the developer is Atlanta-based Place Properties, which specializes in military and university housing.
The complex was first planned in 2007 for land in Fountain, near Interstate 25's state Highway 16 exit to Fort Carson.
"Fountain worked very hard to work with the folks at Independence Place and the developers of the land to make this happen, and it was going good, and then the economy went belly-up," Fountain Mayor Jeri Howells says. "They were almost at the stage of a groundbreaking when everything came to a dead halt."
Now, the complex would abut Stratmoor Hills, with about 500 homes where many residents oppose the project based on expected noise, its drain on the area's water supply (the county says water is sufficient), property devaluation and demands placed on the fire service. Some say they already suffer power outages, phone service interruptions and brown water from old and strained systems.
But the biggest concern is the roundabout. A traffic study showed the project would add 1,596 vehicles a day to Venetucci, which the study says carries 11,860 vehicles per weekday.
City traffic engineer Dave Krauth says roundabouts reduce accidents, but can be a nightmare for big trucks. "When trucks go through roundabouts, they don't stay in their own lane," he says. "It's known that they swing wide." Although Krauth says roundabouts are "more efficient [than signals] in the right locations," he says the city has no roundabouts on truck routes.
Peters says guiding a 72-foot-long truck full of gravel through a roundabout is "not gonna happen," and he worries a roundabout on Venetucci (U.S. Highway 85/87) will cause the city to drop it as a truck route.
Ingrid Richter of InCompass Development Inc., who represents the apartment company, notes in an outline of project issues given to County Commissioner Dennis Hisey that the roundabout was designed according to city standards and would accommodate semi-trucks. But Peters believes the developer wants a roundabout simply because it's cheaper.
"Ultimately, the people who will pay the price are the people living there," Peters contends. "They'll be waiting two hours to get home."
Events not included
The roundabout, only the second in the county, would be the sole access point to the development and the sole access point to the World Arena from the south.
The developer's traffic study, which isn't included in backup materials posted on the county's website, doesn't mention traffic created by events at the World Arena, its adjoining Ice Hall and the National Strength and Conditioning Association, says Dan Wood, who works at Rocky Mountain Materials and lives in Stratmoor Hills. Such events can add thousands of vehicles to the mix, but county planner Craig Dossey says in an e-mail that the county requires an applicant to analyze only peak-hour traffic.
The World Arena books 225 to 250 events per year, not to mention the regular daily traffic to and from the Ice Hall. Together they have 2,500 parking spaces.
Asked how a roundabout could handle much of that traffic, World Arena general manager Dot Lischick says, "I'm not sure how it can. I know you're coming from a major intersection with four to five lanes, and you'll have to drop to one. I see that as a major bottleneck."
Lischick, in her letter to the county, says, "This may have a direct impact on our ability to attract returning guests and will cause aggravation for our neighbors."
Like Lischick, Bob Weldon, assistant executive director for USA Hockey on Bob Johnson Drive, has a "huge concern" about traffic and the roundabout. "The maneuvering of larger vehicles such as fire engines and semi-trucks needs to be considered," says his letter to county planners.
But the planners don't see a problem. In their report to commissioners, they wrote, "The applicant's traffic report demonstrated that a signal would not be warranted and that a roundabout would provide superior service for traffic exiting the properties to the north, especially during peak traffic events at the World Arena."
And the development means money for the county — $414,000 in one-time park fees in lieu of dedicated land and traffic, drainage and bridge impact fees, along with $17,640 a year in property taxes for the $30 million project.
One tricky juggling act
On Jan. 18, Ingrid Richter started working as real estate services manager for the city of Colorado Springs, at an annual salary of $92,915.
The next day, she was wearing another hat, as a developer representing Place Properties of Atlanta on its apartment complex intent-to-develop proposal submitted to El Paso County.
But there's nothing wrong with that, city officials say. City policy requires employees obtain supervisors' OK for outside employment, and Richter got that from Robin Kidder, who has since left the city. Apparently, Kidder felt that the arrangement wouldn't violate two other aspects of city policy: that the employment not create a conflict of interest or appearance of one, and that employees not work their second jobs during city work hours and with city resources.
The city also requires employees to file written notice of potential conflicts. Richter didn't, and only recently began doing the paperwork after the Indy asked for it.
In her city job, Richter buys and sells property and easements for the city, maintains property records, and handles leases and real-estate-related matters. As a developer, she runs InCompass Development, Inc., which aims to "provide professional real estate consulting, project management and entitlement services to the development, brokerage, banking and finance industries." She started working on the apartment project last October.
City Budget Manager Lisa Bigelow says in a written statement that she and Assistant City Manager Nancy Johnson reviewed the situation and saw no conflict. Richter was allowed to use vacation time to attend county hearings for the apartment project, records show: for four hours April 19 to appear before the county planning commission, which unanimously approved her project; and for one hour May 12, when county commissioners discussed delaying the hearing. It later was set for June 9.
Bigelow says Richter, 46, told city officials she severed all other InCompass business relationships when the city hired her, and doesn't intend to pursue consulting work. But as of Wednesday, Richter's InCompass website still advertised her expertise in site evaluations, rezoning, annexations, variances, project management, and even "political action issues, lobbying efforts."
Richter, who's also a Manitou Springs City Councilor, didn't respond to e-mails seeking comment.
— Pam Zubeck