Infill development, more bike lanes, neighborhood improvements and different avenues for transportation top residents’ wish lists for the future of Colorado Springs.
With a month left to go in the first phase of the Plan COS process — to create the city’s first strategic master plan since 2001 — about 700 residents have weighed in about their priorities for the city’s future.
“We got off to a slow start,” said Peter Wysocki, city planning and community development director. “But it’s gathering steam now. And the more responses we get in, the more certain things stand out.”
Those things include repurposing outdated or empty buildings with new functions like Ivywild School or the Mining Exchange hotel. They also want more bike lanes and a more walkable city, Wysocki said.
“We need to take care of our neighborhoods,” he said. “And we can’t just continue to grow outward — we need to consider infill development. We have some great new upscale subdivisions, and some people want to live in master-planned communities. But we also need to revitalize other areas — and we need housing at many diverse price points.”
Attracting Millennials means investing in the city center, as most young professionals prefer urban areas to gated communities or suburban neighborhoods, he said.
And more ways to get around the sprawling city are also on the top of the list.
“People, by far, want a complete multi-modal transportation system,” Wysocki said. “As more people engage in the process, we’re only finding out that the support for bike lanes and transportation options only increase.”
They also are asking for improvements to areas of town that have been left behind in the recovery, he said.
“We want to re-imagine some of our neighborhoods, to see how we can help them grow and help them succeed,” he said. “We need to identify which neighborhoods need assistance and find out from the residents what they need. We will create some plans; develop the SWOT analysis — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Then we’ll develop solutions. But it’s going to take all of us.”
The city started the master plan process earlier this year, said Jay Anderson, the city’s engagement specialist.
“Initially, it was a challenge to get our message out and in what modes of engagement. We’ve created videos; we’re on social media; we’ve registered a website. It was hard to get over 100 people, but now we’ve broken through that. There’s more awareness now,” he said. “We know this first survey is very broad and very general. But we’re trying to get a sense of where to go at first. People who fill out the first survey will be contacted again as we get more specific.
And both Anderson and Wysocki expressed confidence that the survey will gain more traffic during its final month. The survey is at coloradosprings.gov/plancos.
“We’re out there — a lot,” Anderson said. “We have chalkboards set up at organizational meetings; we’re on Facebook and Twitter. We want as many people as possible to start the process, so they can have a say as we go along. We want residents, business, stakeholders — we need to know where they see the city in 20 years.”
It’s early in the two-year process, Wysocki says, and there will be plenty of opportunities for public input.
“The entire project is going to be in six phases,” he said. “And we’re coming to the end of Phase I — the community outreach phase. We don’t want to hear from just the usual suspects. We want to have a very robust community outreach process, as many stakeholder meetings as we can, to gain a broad spectrum of the community to set us on the right path.”
The path started with Mayor John Suthers, who appointed a steering committee with current councilors Merv Bennett and Jill Gaebler. Other members are: Rachel Beck, from the Council of Neighbors and Organizations; Lynette Crow-Iverson, CEO of Conspire and former chairwoman of Colorado Springs Forward; Joshua Green, an independent strategic consultant; Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition; Charlie Deason, a retired aerospace engineer; Kent Fortune, vice president and general manager for USAA; Hannah Parsons, chief community development officer for the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance; Kevin Kratt, real estate developer; Eric Phillips, chairman of the Colorado Springs Planning Commission; Jim Raughton, member of the Urban Renewal Authority board of directors; Harry Salzman, local Realtor; Tim Seibert, owner of N.E.S., a local planning firm and outgoing chairman of the Housing and Building Association; Robert Shonkwiler, a member of the Urban Renewal Authority Board of Directors; Doug Stimple, CEO of Classic Homes; and Taj Stokes, director of Thrive Colorado, an entrepreneurial training program focused on southeast Colorado Springs.
While the steering committee leads the process, Wysocki says the Plan COS wants to hear from as many people as possible.
“So we’ve made a group called co-creators,” he said. “City staff can’t do this alone. So these people, and there are a lot of them, reach out to other people in their spheres of influence. We’ve created a multiplier effect.”
The city especially needs to hear from the business community, Wysocki said.
“This is a blueprint for future growth,” he explained. “How we want that growth to occur, what we want it to look like. It involves everything: economic development, transportation, parks, open space, mobility. It’s really about the city’s vitality; its growth. All the other plans — the parks plan, the transportation plan — will feed into this one.”
Phase one will end in early January, after holding public hearings and meetings titled “COS Talks.” Those talks will feature speakers and stakeholders in public meetings to discuss where the city moves next.
In February, the city will gain input from residents about its preliminary vision, finalize its themes and identify possible vision statements. By August 2018, the final plan will be in place and the city will hold adoption hearings.
Wysocki hopes more people become engaged as the process gains steam.
“This is a very long-term, long-range document,” he said. “We haven’t seen a comprehensive planning update — and the one we had was upended by the Great Recession. Our demographics have changed, and so have the city’s needs. In the end, we’ll adopt a robust strategic plan that will guide us for the next 20 years.”