Wait a minute! Aren’t we already business-friendly? And if we aren’t, let’s just get rid of the rules and regulations that inhibit business.
That’s not as easy as it seems. City ordinances, and the regulatory practices that result from them, are complex tangles of custom, good intentions, targeted lobbying and the transient political preferences of elected officials. Often enough, entrenched city policies end up achieving goals that defeat their original purposes, while enabling practices that their authors and backers likely opposed.
As the city grew rapidly in the second half of the 20th century, activist residents began to complain about laissez-faire development rules. Developers could pretty much do as they pleased, and they weren’t obliged to pay any attention to neighborhood concerns. Zoning categories were vague and permissive, encouraging commercial intrusion into residential areas.
If you had a piece of ground zoned C-5, you couldn’t put certain kinds of intrusive industrial uses on your site (e.g., a slaughterhouse, boiler factory or tannery), but you could put almost anything else. If you were a powerful business owner, you could easily maneuver to have the rules changed to permit your preferred use.
Residents in older neighborhoods organized and exerted pressure on City Council. The Old North End Homeowners Association drew a cordon sanitaire around the area, stopping commercial intrusion at Uintah Street, while the Council of Neighborhood Organizations (CONO) advocated on behalf of local neighborhood organizations.
Developers had to jump through multiple hoops before they could break ground, and neighbors had to be involved and consulted at every step
of the way.
Lengthy, convoluted processes inhibited small developers, whose projects couldn’t generate enough revenue to pay for planners, traffic consultants, meeting facilitators and attorneys, let alone the payment of various impact and development fees.
The rules of the game had changed, and developers quickly adapted.
They migrated to the suburbs, where vacant tracts of land could be easily developed. No neighbors meant no neighborhood objections, and everything else was easier — financing, planning, building.
But while Colorado Springs ordinances discourage infill development, Boulder has a level field of play. Thanks in part to “use by right” policies, that city’s core is vibrant, self-renewing and successful.
It’s simple. In Boulder, if you have zoning in place that permits a six-story residential building of so many units on your property, you can build it. It must conform to applicable building codes, setbacks, parking requirements and so forth, but you won’t be held hostage for years by disgruntled neighbors.
It’s fair, self-executing and transparent — you know what you can do and what you can’t.
A few administrative policy changes could bring such practices to Colorado Springs, and perhaps accelerate the redevelopment of areas near downtown as well as the already-designated zones of North Nevada Avenue and South Academy Boulevard.
Southwest downtown is another story.
Almost all of the 100-plus acres of mostly vacant and deteriorating buildings are owned or controlled by a few property magnates. They’re not interested in the kind of small-scale development that is revitalizing areas north of Platte Avenue and south of the Pioneers Museum, where many small transactions may eventually create large-scale change.
Here’s a case that magnifies the point:
Last week, Eel Anderson moved Tony’s, his vastly popular neighborhood bar downtown, across Tejon Street to a much larger space. He could do so because the new building was available for purchase, and because he had the time, patience and perseverance to cope with the regulatory processes.
Southwest downtown wasn’t an option, nor was central downtown — the magnates in those areas are waiting for giant paydays.
But while city officials may have City for Champions visions dancing in their heads, they might achieve much by more actively supporting small deals like Anderson moving Tony’s to a bigger venue. A giant, hulking U.S. Olympic Museum might be great, but scores of new downtown businesses would be even better.
I’ll go to the Olympic Museum once, but the new Tony’s? At least once a month.
So, to paraphrase Mao Tse-Tung, let a thousand Tony’s bloom! nCSBJ