For activists scrambling to protect downtown views of Pikes Peak, next week's City Council consideration of a proposed View Protection Ordinance is crucial.
If passed, the ordinance -- which sets height restrictions on downtown buildings -- will throw a monkey wrench into the county's effort to design a 38,000-square-feet courthouse on the site of the current judicial plaza. That project, approved last year, has been shrouded in controversy, resulting in an unsuccessful effort to recall two county commissioners and recently stoked by accusations that the county's "public process" for input on the courthouse's design is a sham.
"We've been very disappointed in the public process," said Pam Martin, spokesperson for the county government watchdog group Together for Effective Alternatives (TEA). "Communication has just shut down. We have not been notified when the next meeting will be, what the design group has been working on since that last meeting. There's just been very little communication, which is disheartening because this is the 'public process.'"
However, County Commissioner Tom Huffman sees view-protection activists as an obstreperous minority. "The group that is opposing the courthouse has a misimpression that public input is the same as control," Huffman said. "What they're looking for is a venue to take control of this process and basically do whatever they want to do when, in fact, the majority of the citizens of the county expect us to do the most cost-effective thing."
Huffman and his fellow commissioners will ultimately cast the deciding vote on the courthouse when designs are presented to them by a group of eight volunteers who are overseeing the design process. No timeline has been set for the vote.
However, view-protection activists and those opposed to the ordinance will have another chance to make their voices heard, according to Liz Lancaster of the Denver-based Design Collaborative. Lancaster, who is managing the public process for the county, which includes serving as a liaison to citizen groups, said that the third of four public process meetings will be held late this month or in early October.
In the meantime, she said, members of the design team are working on three potential courthouse designs, all of which are located on the existing courthouse plaza.
In relation to the city's proposed view-protection ordinance, Lancaster said some of the designs would conform to the ordinance, whereas others do not.
Delayed vote sought
Meanwhile, The Downtown Partnership, an alliance of businesses and developers, has been lobbying against the city's proposed ordinance since its inception. According to spokesperson Beth Kosley, the partnership hired two urban planners to study the economic impact of a view protection ordinance on the urban renewal district of southwest downtown known as Palmer Village.
Kosley said she plans to ask Council to delay their vote next week so the community can debate the implications of view ordinances citywide. In the meantime, Kosley said she's arranged a series of meeting with groups in favor of the ordinance in hopes of correcting misconceptions.
"We're trying to just sit down and talk. Is there some way we can come to an agreement and consensus on some solutions here?" Kosley said. "We're trying to give them a little more information on where we're coming from on this. I think there's just a lot of misinformation out there."
However, according Pam Martin of TEA, speed is of the essence. "There is a sense of urgency here because they (the county's design team) are designing buildings that don't conform (to the view ordinance), so we do need to get this decision made."
Nevertheless, Martin and other members of TEA will be meeting with Kosley this week. "We're always willing to talk," Martin said.
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