Monday, June 24, 2019

Transit hub, nearly 20 years in the making, still just a vision

Posted By on Mon, Jun 24, 2019 at 5:06 PM

click to enlarge Looking northwest from the corner of Sahwatch and Cucharras streets, the preferred location for a new transit hub. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Looking northwest from the corner of Sahwatch and Cucharras streets, the preferred location for a new transit hub.

An update from city administration about building a new city transit hub drew strong words from City Council at its June 24 work session, with Councilor Tom Strand noting the Council has been toying with the project for nearly 20 years.

"We've spent enough heartbeats on this," he said. "We need to move forward."

And that very well might mean taking the property by eminent domain, several councilors said. Eminent domain is the process in which private property is taken at market value by a government entity to serve a public purpose.

Studies have concluded the top three choices, in order, are:

• Three quarters of the block bounded by Colorado Avenue, Sahwatch Street, Cucharras Street and Sierra Madre Stree.
• Three quarters of the block bounded by Cucharras, Weber Street, Vermijo Street and Nevada Avenue. (The Independent is located in this city block but is not part of the desired property.)
• Pueblo Avenue right-of-way between Nevada and Wahsatch Street.

The first choice, though, comes with a limiting caveat: The owner, shown on county property records as Supperstein Family Trust, doesn't want to sell but rather wants to pursue "a joint development project and wishes to retain ownership," the staff said in a written report for Council. "Under this approach, the City and the property owner would follow the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTAs) joint development requirements," it said.

As Mountain Metropolitan Transit manager Craig Blewitt told Council, under a normal public/private partnership, the government owns the property and engages a developer to help develop it. "This is the other way around," he said, noting that even if a deal could be reached, it would take two years to complete the hub terminal.

Blewitt said the next step should be for the city to get an appraisal of the property, but if the owner still isn't interested in selling, "Then we're probably looking at renovations to the existing terminal." The transit hub sits on the southwest corner of Nevada Avenue and Kiowa Street.

Several Council members made it clear they want to press forward with the top-ranked site.

"It seems to me the preferred site is the one that will enhance accessibility for those using the transit system," Councilor David Geislinger said. "Is there any thought about taking the next step and doing eminent domain?"

At that, Jeff Greene, Mayor John Suthers' chief of staff, jumped in. "The mayor has been very clear. He does not support [eminent domain]. We would assess the legal options and then look at other options that would provide a stop gap..."

Councilor Jill Gaebler noted the Southwest Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission on which she serves is "really really moving" forward, not only with a local rail line between cities, but also possibly luring the Amtrak's Southwest Chief, which travels from Chicago to Los Angeles, to come to Colorado Springs from Pueblo before heading south.

"I want Colorado Springs to be poised and ready," she said, adding that the preferred site is the only one that makes sense for accommodating Bustang, a commuter shuttle service that runs between Front Range cities, in pulling off and back on Interstate 25.

To which Strand said, "It just seems like we're paralyzed. Constituents don't think the current site is at all appropriate. Actually, it was a previous Council that started this. This is the eighth different time in 20 years [the city has studied a site for a new transit hub]."

Councilor Wayne Williams said although he's "not enamored" of the eminent domain process, it doesn't make sense to locate a transit hub east of Nevada, because it's too far away from a potential rail hub.

For Council President Richard Skorman, the issue is compelling. "This is a really important site that will determine the future of maybe millions of travelers over time," he said, noting several costly projects, including the $100-million Cimarron/I-25 interchange, anticipated a hub in that vicinity.

"It's an issue we've been talking about for decades," he said. "I'm not pleased. We were able to tell the landowner this is where we want to be, and we're sort of being held hostage. I think we need to look at eminent domain as a tool in the tool chest."

Greene subdued further debate by promising a new report in 30 days, but warned Council, "On property negotiations, be careful what you're stating publicly. It's a very sensitive process."

The Indy couldn't reach Supperstein Family Trust for a comment but will update if we hear back.

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