Science and Technology

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

City Council denies appeal of Broadmoor expansion

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2019 at 11:27 AM

The Broadmoor’s main hotel, which dates back 101 years in Colorado Springs. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • The Broadmoor’s main hotel, which dates back 101 years in Colorado Springs.

With a 8-1 vote, City Council denied an appeal May 15 of the Broadmoor hotel's plans to more than double the size of its exhibition hall.

Councilor Bill Murray was the sole dissenting vote.


The Broadmoor's plan to expand stemmed from the need to accommodate more exhibitors at the annual Space Symposium, which it's hosted for 35 years. The hotel also envisions a facility that could host multi-day events and conferences during "off-season" periods in the winter.

Since city staff approved the expansion plans Feb. 19, they've been appealed twice by residents of the neighborhood surrounding the hotel — first to the planning commission, which denied the appeal March 21, and then to Council.


Broadmoor neighborhood residents supporting the appeal took issue with the resort's exclusion of additional parking from its expansion plans, which would require running shuttles every 20 seconds at peak times. And they said the expansion doesn’t take into account evacuation needs, should there be a wildfire or other emergency.

The Broadmoor countered neighbors’ concerns about traffic and parking with a study that concluded shuttle use for the largest events — those drawing 9,000 attendees — would “create no negative impact to traffic operations for the surrounding roadway network and existing site access.”
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Friday, January 18, 2019

"Small house" community coming to Woodland Park

Posted By on Fri, Jan 18, 2019 at 4:10 PM

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
Woodland Park developers think a planned “small house” community called the Village at Tamarac provides the answer to many people’s tiny-home dreams. But think “dreams” in terms of lifestyle, not cost — affordable housing experts say developments like these aren’t for those looking for a deal.

The Village at Tamarac will offer 53 models, says Pete LaBarre, one of the developers behind the project. The homes are a little too big to be considered “tiny homes,” which normally top out at 400 square feet.

Manufactured by Champion Home Builders, each small house — 500 square feet with a 500-square-foot crawl space — will cost about $115,000. While that may seem like a bargain, homebuyers won’t own the lots their homes sit on, and each site will cost an additional $600 to $700 a month to lease. In other words, it’s a similar setup to buying a mobile home, except the home can’t be moved elsewhere.


That could be a problem for some. Residents with fixed or low incomes who own homes in mobile home parks can struggle with lot rent increases. If rents become unaffordable, that can lead to foreclosure.

But LaBarre says his tenants are better protected than many mobile home owners. He’s offering all buyers a 99-year lease, and while there will be rent escalation provisions, LaBarre says they’re being included to “protect ourselves in the event of really high inflation.” It’s also worth noting that the developers won’t have an interest in the mortgages because they are not lending to homeowners, which sometimes happens in mobile home parks.

“Our passion is to try to bring more affordable, more obtainable housing, in this kind of price range where there just isn’t any,” LaBarre says.


But Jamie Pemberton, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Teller County, says developments like these won’t solve the area’s affordable housing problem. (A 2016 assessment identified the need for at least 741 affordable rental, workforce, senior and other housing units in Woodland Park.)

Let’s assume that you can make a 20-percent down payment of $23,000 on one of LaBarre’s small houses. If you have good credit, you could get a 30-year fixed loan and pay about $522 a month. But when you add the $600 monthly lot fee to that, you’re paying $1,122 a month to live in your small house for 30 years.

And theoretically, you’d have to keep paying $600 a month to lease the lot (though LaBarre says developers hope to sell the Village at Tamarac back to the community in five to seven years). If you purchased a $230,000 conventional home, on the other hand, and made the same down payment of $23,000, you could get a 30-year fixed loan of about $1,079 a month. (To be fair, it’s difficult to find a home in Woodland Park for $230,000 or less.)

“For homebuyers, [leasing land] is not what we recommend,” Pemberton says. “... We actually counsel our families that they can get caught up in this thinking.”

Susan Cummings, Habitat for Humanity’s homebuyer services coordinator, adds that tiny houses aren’t very family-friendly: “Where do you change the diapers? When somebody gets sick, how do you handle that?”
But LaBarre says the choice to purchase a tiny home “typically isn’t about affordability. It’s about lifestyle.” He expects many residents to pay cash for the homes, as he’s seen in longstanding Peak View Park, a Woodland Park RV and tiny house location that he co-owns.

“They like living in a smaller space,” LaBarre says. “... There’s less time spent cleaning the house, less time spent maintaining the house. So that translates to, in their view, and in my view, a better quality of life.”

LaBarre says overwhelming demand for spaces in Peak View Park led him and a few other developers, as the group M3XP2 LLC, to propose the new small house development.

They couldn’t expand the tiny house community at Peak View Park, LaBarre says, because Teller County’s building code no longer allows long-term residence in towable homes. Because the Village at Tamarac’s small houses will be secured by foundations, the development can follow the same building code as typical subdivisions.

The developers received preliminary approval from Woodland Park, LaBarre says, and plan to close on the property in February or March in time to have homes available in August.
Interest continues to grow — as of Jan. 17, there were already 34 people on the wait list. LaBarre says their demographics mirror those of residents of Peak View Park, which is most popular with single women, with and without children.

Wendy Hartshorn, vice president of marketing for the Village at Tamarac, says she’s moving to Peak View Park to start “a new chapter.”

“I’m able to simplify and cut costs. And I’m really excited.”
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Friday, November 16, 2018

Recycling report: Colorado still lags behind U.S.

Posted By on Fri, Nov 16, 2018 at 7:05 PM

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
Last year, the first-ever statewide survey of recycling rates showed Colorado recycled only 12 percent of its waste. Compared with the national average of 34 percent, it wasn't pretty.

This year's survey results — released Nov. 14, the day before America Recycles Day — aren't better. Colorado's rate stayed exactly the same.

The report, written by Eco-Cycle and the Colorado Public Interest Research Group and titled "The State of Recycling in Colorado: 2018," shows that in 2017, Coloradans created more than 9 million tons of waste. That's an average of 1.45 tons per resident.

“Colorado’s low recycling rate comes as a shock to most people who think of us as a ‘green’ state,” Kate Bailey, Eco-Cycle’s director of research and policy, is quoted in a statement. “The truth is, 95 percent of what we throw away could have been recycled or composted. With strong state leadership, Colorado is well-positioned to move forward quickly to realize the environmental and economic benefits of increased recycling."

On a county-by-county basis, Boulder County had the highest recycling rate: 40 percent, with Pitkin County coming in second at 30 percent. Denver County recycles 22 percent of its waste. But many counties, including El Paso County, don't track recycling rates.

Out of cities that collect data (most, like Colorado Springs, don't), Fort Collins came in first with a 55 percent overall rate. Boulder was a close second at 51 percent.

The report cites 2011 data from a one-time study that showed El Paso and Teller counties recycled just 11 percent of their waste.

The May closure of GOALZERO, a recycling program that provided a free drop-off point for recyclable materials in Colorado Springs, probably didn't help. There's currently just one place left in the city where residents can simply drop off recyclables: the Household Hazardous Waste Facility for El Paso County at 3255 Akers Drive.


The report did indicate some bright spots elsewhere in Colorado. Longmont increased its recycling rate by 5 percent, which researchers credit to a new curbside composting program. The city of Boulder bumped up its overall rate to 51 percent, attributed to a new ordinance that requires all businesses, apartments and homes to recycle and compost. And Pueblo opened its first public drop-off recycling center, possibly a first step to boosting the area's dismal 5 percent rate.

In Colorado Springs, waste disposal has long been a private service and the city doesn't have immediate plans to change that, says Skyler Leonard, city digital communications specialist. (El Paso County does have a recycling directory with information on how and where to recycle.)

Colorado's Solid and Hazardous Waste Commission adopted statewide and regional recycling goals last year that aim to increase the statewide rate to 28 percent by 2021 (32 percent for "Front Range" counties, which include El Paso County). Reaching that target would decrease carbon emissions at a level that is the equivalent of taking 485,000 cars off the road each year, the report says.

The ReWall Company, an Iowa-based business that recycles paper and plastic cartons into building materials, could help Colorado reach that goal thanks to a $1.5 million grant it received through the state's Recycling Resources Economic Opportunity Grant Program. The company plans to launch operations next year.


The report outlines several steps Governor-elect Jared Polis could take to improve recycling programs in Colorado:

1) Appoint a statewide recycling coordinator to coordinate with other state agencies and local governments to "create a comprehensive approach to building our new recycling economy."

2) Launch a "recycling market development initiative" to attract more remanufacturers (like ReWall) that keep recycled materials in local communities.

3) Create a statewide waste diversion funding task force to find ways to increase funding for recycling and other waste reduction programs.

4) Expand recycling and composting at state agencies, purchase compost for state projects, and set recycling goals for state construction projects.
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Friday, October 19, 2018

ReWall gets recycling grant to turn Colorado's cartons into buildings

Posted By on Fri, Oct 19, 2018 at 4:23 PM

ReWall's products include hail-resistant roof boards made from up-cycled cartons. - COURTESY OF THE REWALL COMPANY
  • Courtesy of The Rewall Company
  • ReWall's products include hail-resistant roof boards made from up-cycled cartons.


A company that produces building materials out of used packaging received an unprecedented $1.5 million grant to roll out operations in Colorado, where it could help to close the gap between our state and the rest of the country when it comes to recycling.


"There’s a little bit of a problem with landfilling in Colorado because it’s so cheap, so people don’t feel that need [to find] an alternative to it," says Jan Rayman, CEO of The ReWall Company. "So we like to think that we’re showing people a way [to] think outside the box."

The company, which has honed its manufacturing process in Iowa for the last seven years, plans to open a facility in a yet-undetermined location, probably near Denver, by April of next year. While ReWall will only need 15 employees to start — most of the process of shredding, melting and producing building materials is automated — Rayman says ReWall will feed local economies by incentivizing waste companies to add the people and infrastructure needed to collect, sort and deliver packaging to be transformed into building materials.

The funding for ReWall's Colorado launch comes from the state's Recycling Resources Economic Opportunity Grant Program, created in 2008 to promote economic development through recycling. Funded by tipping fees from state landfills, the program has provided close to $20 million for recycling infrastructure to businesses, local governments, nonprofits, schools and universities since its start.

And ReWall is getting an unusually big share of the pie. As the program’s total yearly budget — including staff and operations — is around $3.5 million, most grants are in the ballpark of $200,000 to $225,000, says Eric Heyboer, RREO’s program administrator.


“It was definitely the biggest grant we’ve ever awarded to a single entity through our program here at the state,” Heyboer says. “But, we felt it was very much justified because [ReWall is] basically bringing an end-market solution to paper cartons.”


Normally, Heyboer says, materials such as milk jugs and orange juice containers are usually shipped out of state for processing if they’re even recycled at all. That's because these containers often consist of different materials, such as plastic caps, paper and aluminum, making them hard to recycle.

But ReWall's manufacturing process uses the entire container, Rayman says, taking advantage of the plastic coating as a binder. The process involves shredding and melting the material but doesn't require any water to separate the layers, making it more eco-friendly.

These recycled material roof boards are class 4 hail resistant, and made in custom sizes. - COURTESY OF THE REWALL COMPANY
  • Courtesy of The Rewall Company
  • These recycled material roof boards are class 4 hail resistant, and made in custom sizes.

Colorado lags behind the rest of the nation when it comes to recycling. Though its residents are known for spending time outdoors, a 2017 report by Eco-Cycle and the Colorado Public Interest Research Group found that the state only recycles 12 percent of its waste. The national average is 34 percent.

ReWall might help Colorado narrow that gap. The company's goal is to drive the "local circle economy," where waste remains in a community and serves a new purpose.

"I’m a firm believer that construction is actually one of the very few, if not the only other industry that has the capacity to absorb the volumes that we’re producing as waste," Rayman says.


ReWall's products, because they're made from FDA-approved food packaging, are also more healthy and environmentally friendly than traditional building products that use toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, Rayman adds.
"We provide a healthy alternative," he says. "We stopped calling our product green because there’s a lot of greenwashing out there. People can call green, everything that saves them a little bit of energy or a little bit of money, but no. This is a healthy product that actually a lot of people seek out — a lot of people with environmental sensitivities would seek ReWall out to build their homes from because they’re allergic to the traditional products."
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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Pueblo could become "Colorado's clean energy hub" with coal plant closures

Posted By on Wed, Sep 5, 2018 at 1:00 AM

JEFFREY BEALL
  • Jeffrey Beall

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission gave Xcel Energy unanimous verbal approval Aug. 27 to close two of the three coal-fired units at Pueblo's Comanche Generating Station, 10 years ahead of schedule.

Xcel will also invest $2.5 billion in renewable energy, including wind and solar generation and battery storage, as part of its Colorado Energy Plan. The plan was approved Aug. 27 by a 2-to-1 vote, says Utilities Commission spokesperson Terry Bote.

Currently, about 80 people work at Comanche Generating Station's two coal-fired units, Xcel spokesperson Michelle Aguayo says. Some current employees will be retiring when the units close in 2022 and 2025, she adds, and the rest will be trained to work in other jobs with the company.

One future project would include a new solar facility to power Pueblo's EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel, though that project needs to secure approval from the Utilities Commission separately. Xcel and EVRAZ recently agreed to a 22-year contract that clears the way for a potential $500 million expansion at the steel plant, the Pueblo Chieftain reports.

Xcel estimates that its new energy plan will mean Colorado could get 53 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2026 — an increase from 28 percent last year. The company also predicts the plan will save ratepayers $213 million, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions 60 percent from 2005 levels (though Bote says some Utilities Commission staff members thought those figures were overstated).

In 2017, 44 percent of Colorado's energy came from coal. The new plan would reduce coal dependence to just 24 percent by 2026, Xcel claims.

“By making this step change now, we reduce future fuel costs for the long term – and we can pass those savings directly along to our customers,” Alice Jackson, president of Xcel Energy—Colorado, is quoted in a company statement from the plan's June unveiling. “Our plan takes a significant step forward in transitioning our supply mix to cleaner and more diverse resources, benefiting our customers and the environment.”

Xcel's Colorado Energy Plan also includes solar and wind projects in Adams, Baca, Boulder, Kit Carson/Cheyenne, Morgan, Park and Weld counties. Pueblo County would be a leader, with 525 megawatts of solar power and 225 megawatts of battery storage.

“With approval of this plan, Pueblo is poised to become Colorado’s clean energy hub," David Cockrell, chair of the Colorado Sierra Club's Conservation Committee, is quoted in an Aug. 27 statement from the Sierra Club.

A new partnership between Pueblo Community College and NextEra Energy Resources would also push the city closer to that goal. NextEra plans to install 52 solar panels on Pueblo’s campus, and “provide training and curriculum to help the college create a pipeline of skilled workers for the rapidly evolving industry,” according to an Aug. 24 statement from the school.

The number of solar-panel installer jobs in the U.S. was expected to more than double between 2016 and 2026, according to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs Utilities has two solar projects coming online in 2020, after which 15 percent of its energy portfolio will come from renewable sources, says Utilities spokesperson Amy Trinidad. Currently, 11 percent of Utilities’ portfolio comes from renewables.

Colorado Springs’ controversial Martin Drake Power Plant, built in 1925, is slated to close no later than 2035 — though the Utilities Board, which is made up of City Council members, has toyed with the idea of accelerating the deadline.

Trinidad says the earliest the utility could have the infrastructure in place to allow for the closure would be 2023.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional reporting.
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Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Springs is big with small businesses

Posted By on Thu, Aug 16, 2018 at 6:00 AM

PIXABAY
  • Pixabay

According to Thumbtack.com, Colorado Springs has lots of little reasons to celebrate.

Between last year and this year, the city bumped up its "B" score in "overall friendliness" to an "A+" on the site's Small Business Friendliness Survey, which ranks 57 cities based on factors such as licensing requirements, tax regulations, and labor and hiring regulations.

Colorado Springs outshone many of its peers, coming in at No. 4 nationwide. (Though it's government websites got a big, fat "F." Ouch.)

The survey is based on the input of 7,500 small business owners across the country, Thumbtack.com says.

Here's the city's full report card:

Employment, labor and hiring: A
Licensing: A
Tax code: A-
Training and networking programs: A-
Ease of hiring: B
Regulations: B
Ease of starting a business: C+
Government websites: F

The city, clearly, still has some studying to do on a couple of subjects (*cough* technology *cough*) but notes in an Aug. 14 statement that "Recognizing usability challenges, the city launched a redesigned website in the spring."

TBD whether that makes a difference next year — if so, Colorado Springs could climb even higher. This year, Fort Worth, Texas, topped the list, followed by San Antonio, Texas, and Columbus, Ohio.

The state of Colorado earned a "C+" in overall friendliness, and Denver got a "C-." We're unimpressed.
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