Perhaps the time has arrived to question sprawl

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On May 15, the nine members of the Colorado Springs Planning Commission gathered at City Hall for their monthly meeting. For the old hands among them, the agenda seemed ominous, as did the crowded room.

Items 6a-6c were particularly threatening. Innocuously titled “The Farm,” the three items had little to do with farming, and a lot to do with Edge City development.

Here’s the description, produced in classic Planning Department bureaucratese.

“Project Description: This project includes concurrent applications for a major master plan amendment to the 475-acre Allison Valley Master Plan (now known as The Farm), a PUD zone change for 26 acres and a 75.65-acre development plan. The property is located east of Interstate 25, west of Voyager Parkway and north of Interquest Parkway.

The master plan amendment modifies the land use of approximately 129 acres; reduces and reconfigures residential densities, reconfigures major access points, relocates the 15-acre school site, expands the parks, trails and open space, preserves drainage areas, and illustrates areas of the plan that have been previously implemented …”

In ordinary English, here’s what was before the commission.

“This gigantic piece of dirt was master-planned years ago, when things were booming. The boom went poof and the dirt remained prairie land. Nearby residents thought that was just fine, especially since the dirt was zoned for 2,008 residential units and 1.1 million square feet of commercial and office space. Right now, it’s what it has always been — ranchland.”

It’s exactly the kind of neighbor you’d want if you lived on a five-acre “Ranchelito” at the edge of the Black Forest.

Current use: “There is a small farm house on the property with cattle and other grazing animals.”

The three items totaled 50 pages, including multiple maps and charts. It consumed hours and hours, as the commissioners tried to make sense of what was being presented, and then they attempted to render a fair, balanced and informed verdict.

What their verdict was may not matter, since it likely will be appealed to City Council, as will several other lengthy agenda items.

It may be that the commissioners themselves won’t remember the decision, since the meeting lasted for more than 13 hours.

Yes, 13 hours.

“We broke for lunch, and they gave us some nice Mexican food,” one dazed participant recalled. “They hadn’t planned for dinner, so they gave us the lunch leftovers.”

One thing is certain: The Farm will be developed. The open prairie will be replaced by a comfortable suburb, home to more than a thousand families who will send their kids to District 20 schools, buy their cars at Woodmen and Powers, and shop at Copper Ridge … I mean, Polaris Pointe.

And what’s bad about that?

Absolutely nothing, except that it, and other equally amiable developments, will contribute to the long-term insolvency of Colorado Springs.

Residential developments are to the city as methamphetamine is to a drug user. The druggie gets high, comes down and soon needs another hit. The drug’s long-term health effects aren’t part of the equation.

When developers break ground at The Farm, the city gets a nice hunk of sales tax from every new house. As each house is built, the city collects almost nothing in property taxes.

 But the new residents need services — public safety, stormwater drainage, roads and bridges, snow removal and the like. Low-density suburbs have extensive road networks, adding to the city’s present total of 7,431 lane-miles of city-maintained roads.

That makes us a highly inefficient city, compared to larger metropolitan areas such as Miami. Yet our policies favor roads and suburbs — not compact, medium-density infill projects.

We even gave tax subsidies to Polaris Pointe (Copper Ridge), using part of the sales tax that would otherwise go to the city for road-building that benefits Edge City dwellers.

It’s a lot cheaper to build on the city’s periphery. That’s what the traditional Colorado Springs market wants, and any developer who tries to swim against the tide won’t be a developer for long.

Want proof? The Farm belongs to the Allison Valley Development Company LLC. The applicant is Classic Consulting, part of the “Classic family of diversified real estate services and companies.” You may have heard of Classic — smart, professional and longtime inhabitants of the reality-based community.

Absent radical changes in the city’s tax structure (don’t hold your breath) or massive front-loaded incentives to core city developers, we’re staying with suburban growth.

And let’s face it — suburbia has its faults, but most of it would sing along with the Stones.

“I like it, like it, yes I do!”

2 Responses to Perhaps the time has arrived to question sprawl

  1. maybe the answer is to have higher property taxes for these new developments in line what they charge downtown to property owners to create a level playing field and address the long term funding issue…

    peter miller
    June 1, 2014 at 9:54 am

  2. It’s great to see someone pointing out the truth about our city’s addiction. Yes, we lose money on this growth, and we keep thinking we can make that up by increasing the volume.

    Thank you, John.

    Dave Gardner
    June 4, 2014 at 8:17 am