Managing growth — more people, more businesses — was the topic of speaker after speaker during Wednesday’s annual State of the Tri-Lakes luncheon, hosted by the Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce.
More than 100 business, government and industry leaders were on hand as elected officials from Palmer Lake, Monument and El Paso County talked about the influx of new residents — and the commercial development that follows rooftops — and how the bedroom communities to Colorado Springs and Denver needed to manage the new residents and businesses to maintain the small-town feel of the Tri-Lakes region, which includes Woodmoor, Palmer Lake and Monument.
“We’re anticipating 7 percent growth this year,” said Monument’s town manager, Chris Lowe. “In 2017, we had 184 new housing permits. Where I used to live in Kansas, we had five.”
And Lowe said Castle Rock’s town manager told him the city had more than 1,000 new single-family permits in 2017.
“That kind of growth, it’s going to trickle down here,” he said. “We just have to be ready for it.”
El Paso County Commissioner Stan VanderWerf started his presentation talking about growth as well.
“The population of El Paso County grew by the total population of Teller County in 2017,” he said. “Like it or not, ladies and gentlemen, people are moving here, growth is here. We better get ready for the future population. Because it’s coming.”
All the elected officials discussed the need for strategic planning to make sure that the growth is managed correctly — particularly in commercial development.
“We understand that we don’t want just any business here,” Lowe said. “And some of them don’t want to be in Monument. But we do need more business. We have a historic downtown, but there’s very little that remains of the history. We need businesses that can provide jobs to our residents, can provide a tax base, but that fit in with who we are and what we’re about.”
Lowe told the crowd that Monument had big plans underway to attract people to its downtown.
“We’ve applied for GoCo grant [from the state of Colorado] to build a splash park in Limbaugh Park downtown,” he said. “And when people used to ask us the best place to eat in Monument — we’d tell them it’s in Palmer Lake. But now we have the Bistro and we’re looking at boosting those restaurant numbers even more.”
John Cressman, mayor of Palmer Lake, listed his town’s restaurants: The Stube, a new German-inspired restaurant; the Speedtrap, a coffee shop and bistro with live music; O’Malleys, a bar and grill; Italian restaurants The Villa and Pella Panini, and Mexican restaurant La Rosa.
He said the town’s lake would see future upgrades, as the state of Colorado provided grant money to build a pedestrian bridge across the railroad tracks separating the lake from the town.
“We’re waiting on final approval from the railroad,” he said. “And we believe this will be hugely beneficial to the residents. It’s actually illegal to cross the railroad tracks the way most people do it, so we’re excited about this addition.”
Monument’s smaller neighbor to the north, Palmer Lake, doesn’t have much room for additional commercial development, he said. But when Peak Structural moved to the town a few years ago, it boosted its industrial square footage considerably.
“We have about 23,000 square feet of industrial space now,” he said. “That’s big news for us.”
Terri Hayes, executive director and CEO of the Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce also reflected on the growth of the region. She said the chamber was committed to smart development and would continue to be involved in holding meetings between interested developers and concerned Tri-Lakes residents.
“We did that last year, for the development on Old Denver Road, and we plan more of those kinds of meetings in the future,” she said. “Growth is a good thing; we need to embrace growth. And it’s the right time for it, but we need to make sure that the growth involves businesses that residents need and want.”
Hayes also said the chamber is growing, reflecting business development in the region. Most of its members are in Monument and Colorado Springs, but also come from Palmer Lake and unincorporated areas of El Paso County.