Last month, the city of Manitou Springs officially released its Plan Manitou, a comprehensive community master plan — fully integrated with its own hazard mitigation strategy — that will guide the town’s growth through the next 10 to 20 years.
Plan Manitou is the 7,408-person town’s first true comprehensive master plan since 1992. It was built upon the framework of “Manitou Springs Forward: A Vision and Planning Guide,” a resident-led visionary document that was completed in 2011 to articulate the community’s values, its key issues and its goals for future development.
“It was not considered a certified comprehensive city master plan,” said Mayor Nicole Nicoletta. “But it laid an incredible foundation — a perfect foundation — for Plan Manitou.”
Plan Manitou was adopted by voters on April 4 and “is designed to put the visions and values defined in the Vision Plan into action,” according to the foreword Nicoletta penned for the document. “First and foremost, our goal is that Plan Manitou will be a user-friendly document that supports our community engagement values.”
Included in the 177-page finished product are a series of data sets, maps, policy recommendations and potential methods of implementation. These findings were the result of research by Fort Collins-based planning firm Clarion Associates, which used the 2011 plan and a series of public forums to inform its work. Clarion has completed similar plans for Fort Collins, Boise, Idaho, and Wilson, N.C. — all of which focused on the sustainability and resiliency of each unique municipality.
“More and more communities are seeking to address sustainability issues through their community’s plans, policies and programs,” said the firm’s website. “Sustainable community plans strive to integrate environmental, community and economic goals in a way that allows for future generations to live in a healthy, thriving world and have the same opportunities we have today.”
Nicoletta, who has served as mayor since early 2016, said Clarion was a good fit because of the relevance of sustainability and resiliency in a small mountain town that has in recent years been rocked by economic change and environmental disasters.
“Rather than have a separate hazard mitigation plan … we identified action steps that would reduce risk to our housing, to our economy and would mitigate damage to the natural environment as well,” Nicoletta said. “For us, sustainability is essential … and the resiliency piece is sort of about learning from that and becoming stronger.”
The entire plan is heavily influenced by major flooding that occurred in Manitou Springs in 2013 and 2015. City planner Karen Berchtold said the floods — as well as other natural disasters such as the nearby Waldo Canyon fire in 2012 — convinced local leaders that a new plan was needed in order to effectively address how to prevent and prepare for any similar incidents in the future.
“I think that following the flooding, community leaders started taking a harder look at wanting to plan for the future so that we didn’t increase our hazard risk — and could, in fact, work to reduce it,” Berchtold said.
After recovering from the flood, the city of Manitou Springs got serious about completing a new plan. In 2015, the planning department applied for and received an Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Fund Grant through the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to create Berchtold’s position (city planner II). Soon after her hire, Berchtold secured another $298,000 grant for development of the plan — money that, she said, has been well spent.
“I think it’s a good approach for Manitou Springs,” she said. “It’s a common document that everyone can refer to.”
The plan includes three parts:
• Plan Elements answers questions about the kind of community Manitou will be in the future through community mapping, visioning and goal-setting.
• The Reinvestment and Resiliency Framework addresses where the town should prioritize reinvestment by outlining areas for growth, opportunity and future land use.
• And the Action Plan covers how to make the first two steps a reality by outlining short-term and long-term actions to take.
Of the broad array of topics analyzed and addressed in the plan, Manitou Springs officials say that the most vital are its policy recommendations.
“The policy recommendations are what’s huge,” Nicoletta said. “It makes it so much easier for us to move forward as a community.”
These policy recommendations are included in the plan’s final Action Plan section, which outlines a strategy for the city’s practical application of Clarion’s findings. As part of this strategy, the consulting firm determined six distinctive focus areas: natural hazard risk reduction; housing strategy; congestion, parking management and mobility; community revitalization and economic development; livability and quality of life; and development tools and procedures.
“[The plan will have been successful if] these policy recommendations have been met to the best of our ability, there is walkability for all ages and abilities, and we have the ability to withstand hazards,” Nicoletta said.
“We’ll have so much progress and productivity because of this plan. All the heavy lifting is done — we know what’s out there, we know what really needs to be done — and now the action can really begin.”
Part of the action is ensuring future economic development in Manitou Springs and the continued revitalization of its eastern and western business district corridors. Because of the limited amount of vacant land in the city, the plan stated that “it will need to leverage the opportunities that are available as effectively as possible.” Those opportunities include the increased investment and promotion of activity in the city’s Urban Renewal Area, the creation of an officially designated Colorado Creative District, innovative uses of vacant commercial space, imaginative uses of city-owned facilities to bolster economic activity, the establishment of co-working spaces and more effective promotion of local tourism.
Berchtold said that, in order for these goals to be reached, they must coincide with efforts to prevent future flooding and other natural disasters in the region.
“There’s a real effort to balance existing hazard risk with other community needs, like housing and economic development, and to come up with creative solutions to achieve some of these goals,” she said.
“We’ll try to strike that balance as best we can.”