Good fences may make good neighbors, but it's not always clear whether ambitious in-fill projects do as well. And that's at the crux of two Shooks Run-area proposals, both of which remain in the exploratory phase with the city's Planning Commission.
Each calls for a chic, local- and community-minded gourmet restaurant and drink house. One seeks to continue the history and legacy of the city's oldest grocery store, The Little Market & Deli at 749 E. Willamette Ave., which closed around the new year. The other has set sights on converting a garage that is currently operating as Butch's Automotive Services, at 1412 N. Corona St. (Disclosure: One Indy editorial staffer lives on this block.)
The Butch's project envisions a restaurant providing "fresh, local and gastronomically inspired food from across the world" in a 2,500-square-foot space plus a patio, and is spearheaded by Billy Adams and chef James Davis. Davis has had a role in local successes such as Springs Orleans and The Blue Star.
The Little Market would be a café and ice cream parlor retaining "a small market presence to serve the neighborhood," says co-creator Noel Black (who was an Indy music editor a decade back). In 1,900 square feet, including a 20-seat patio, Ranch Foods Direct meats could be sold alongside local produce and dairy goods, while a menu would lean toward "comfort foods and cuisine à la Firefly in San Francisco."
In both cases, neighbors have voiced concerns about limited on-street parking, alcohol and late-night noise. And city planners Mike Schultz (on the Butch's concept) and Steve Tuck (for the Little Market) confirm that neighbors will play a crucial role in determining how pitches such as these are weighed and eventually decided. Broad support could be the key to changes as dramatic as turning a two-way street into a one-way or enacting permitted parking; wide dissent could easily spell doom.
One key difference between the projects: The Market is zoned for residential development, meaning any new usage must go through a use-variance process, while Butch's is zoned commercial. Because of that, Schultz will initially make the sole decision on Butch's proposal (should a formal application come his way soon), while the Market's plan would go directly to the city's nine-member Planning Commission. If either are appealed by the project entrepreneurs or the nearby neighbors, the appeal ultimately heads to City Council for a determination.
"We try to take every concern under consideration," says Schultz. "Our job is to try to mediate between the applicant and neighbors. Are there solutions both parties can live with? We try to strike a balance."
On a separate call, Tuck says, "If you live within a block, you have concerns. If you live over a block away, you think, 'This is great.' ... We don't want to discourage a good idea, but not every location is fit for a particular idea."
Both project proposals, as they've been discussed thus far in neighborhood meetings that are standard for these types of overhauls, "represent significant intensification," says Tuck. Though he clarifies, "I wouldn't say, 'As goes the Little Market, so goes Butch's.'"
But among those living elsewhere in the community who might like to see progressive-minded in-fill, the two projects can be viewed through a similar lens. In dialogue across social media, those in the know have already touched on the Leechpit-launched "Keep Colorado Springs Lame" sentiment, in essence framing a new-vs.-old guard battle for city revitalization and relevancy, citing walk- and bike-friendly locales from Denver to Seattle and Portland.
Tuck notes that the layouts of many of those cities' neighborhoods don't fairly translate to these Springs sites, which are in neighborhoods that have never had a strong commercial presence. He adds that some residents around Dogtooth Coffee Company (near Butch's), in which he played a planning role, "are still saying they took it on the chin for the greater good."
And though there are examples of in-fill that are widely viewed as successes — Shuga's, for example, on a heavily residential South Cascade Avenue block, and the Ivywild School development farther south — Schultz says each project is so different that it's hard to draft any new code to facilitate many of the proposals that come his way.
Still, to Black each case-by-case decision contributes to a bigger truth.
"I think that the larger stakes are whether or not we decide as a community to allow change into older neighborhoods like Shooks Run to develop locally owned businesses," he says, that can compete against chains and create more walkable central areas. Little Market, he believes, can "set a positive example for how this can be done well, and to the neighbors' satisfaction."
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