Urban renewal plan approved by commission

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Green. The color has many connotations attached to it: luck of the Irish and a knack for cultivation are just two of them. Both are metaphors, in a wee way, for real estate issues.

Lucky charms

At the Planning Commission meeting March 8, the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Plan grew an inch, passing unanimously 8-0, with one committee member absent. With that decision, some members of Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Effort seemed to want to dance a jig.

Doug Berwick, president of Berwick Electric, 129 West Costilla St., represented the businesses affected by the plan. He said the meeting went well, but he had a philosophical problem with eminent domain, or condemnation policies.

Berwick said he intends to voice his concern at the City Council meeting when the plan is heard. His main concern, he said, is that if there is an economic downturn, delays in following through with developers and initiating urban renewal will occur. Another effect of the plan, he said, could be that business owners would be disinclined to maintain existing facilities, “knowing that they are going to be forced to move anyway.”

Such neglect, Berwick said, would reduce the property value and “that area really would become a blight.”

Condemnation power is provided in certain instances, and blight is one of the reasons for exercising eminent domain. Many business owners expressed that their area is not blighted, said Berwick. However, the study found that under technical definitions, such as insufficient sewer drainage, the area was indeed blighted.

“But the business owners do not have the authority or responsibility for those matters; the city does,” said Berwick.

Berwick said there’s a misperception of business owners’ attitudes toward urban renewal.

“There are a lot of people thinking that we tend to sit back,” he said. “The reason the group is willing to cooperate with the city is because we do believe the city has made good attempts to try to protect us as landowners, and mitigate any negative financial impact.”

The Southwest Urban Renewal Plan will be heard at council’s first meeting in April.

A river won’t run through it

The Planning Commission meeting became a garden of controversy when city planning’s Streamside Design Guidelines and Ordinance took a little snip in the bud.

The ordinance is a response to various studies done by the city, said Gary Park, streamside ordinance project manager. The studies showed a need for regulating waterways in concern to the growing development in Colorado Springs. The ordinance seeks to assure that appropriate design measures are taken to ensure development near a stream is compatible with the environment, as well as functional and economically viable. It outlines 13 criteria that must be used in assessing any streamside development.

The Commission recommended City Council not adapt the ordinance, which is not yet formally scheduled for review by council.

Commissioners expressed concerns about the intrusive nature of the ordinance on developers because it imposes physical restrictions on impervious covers. Impervious covers, like sidewalks and pavement or anything that prevents infiltration, would be limited under the ordinance with regard to how long a wall can be, or how steep or high slopes may be, said Park. It is those factors that can be detrimental to streams and waterways in Colorado Springs, he said. The project was planted in the hands of Park two years ago.

It was previous planning studies, like the Open Space Plan, that showed the city did not have any framework concerning development near waterways, he said. While the city has stormwater and other engineering restrictions, the streamside ordinance refers to land use and site development. Even though there is a lot of interlinking between the two, the streamside ordinance would have an effect on drainage, said Park.

Developers and the Home Builders Association submitted a letter to Park, stating they have three remaining concerns with the ordinance.

“We are concerned about layering additional regulation on something that is already heavily regulated,” said Ralph Braden, a spokesman for the HBA.

The HBA would like to apply the ordinance to Monument Creek and Fountain Creek, and see how it works for one or two years, said Braden. After that time the ordinance would be revisited to see is if it is or isn’t accomplishing its goals. The second concern, he said, are streams east of Colorado Springs that are subject to regulation through the Endangered Species Act because of the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse’s habitat in the area. The HBA thinks that layering an ordinance on top of the limitations from the Endangered Species Act is too restrictive for developers, said Braden.

The final concern is the future application of the streamside ordinance to areas where the prudent-line method is applied. Prudent-line method, which is applicable to Cottonwood Creek, requires developers to figure out where stream banks occur naturally, and then accommodate development around the natural flow of drainage, he said.

The streamside ordinance would be applied to future waterways that require the prudent-line method; however, it would not be applicable to streams or creeks previously regulated under the prudent-line methodology.

But the HBA does not agree with this method, said Braden.

“If prudent-line method is approved; then don’t apply streamside,” said Braden.

Conversations between Park and the HBA have turned up a lot of common ground concerning the ordinance.

“In the beginning we were adamantly against (streamside) being approved, but with the three changes, we, the HBA, would not be opposed to it,” said Braden.

Park said he understands the “nervousness” in the real estate community and wants to subdue any doubts.

“I think in the beginning it will have a gentle, intrusive impact and later on a greater impact,” said Park. “They (developers) are cautious of regulations because it can slow their projects down, but I hope that fear subsides and more support grows.”