Before the U.S. became a nation of suburbs, neighborhoods would often include small cafés and markets mixed among the houses.
“I think that’s one of the reasons we wanted to open Willamette Market and Deli,” said co-owner Natalie Peck. “We are from Portland [Ore.] and could walk from our house there to a market and deli. That walkability is really nice and that’s what we wanted to offer our neighbors here.”
The popularity of mixed-use neighborhoods is increasing in older parts of Colorado Springs, said Mike Schultz, the principal planner for city of Colorado Springs.
“The city is going through its comprehensive plan update right now and certainly one of the elements that a lot of people have touched upon are walkable communities,” he said. “People enjoy the fact they don’t have to get in their car necessarily to go somewhere to buy a gallon of milk or to have a drink. If they can walk there, that makes their neighborhood that much better.”
While blended communities are desired by some, not all residents embrace businesses as neighbors.
That’s when zoning issues, like those being encountered at Willamette Market and Deli, can surface, Schultz said.
Businesses may look to renovate or add alcohol sales and discover the property’s zoning isn’t commercial.
“In the case of the little market and then another property not far from there — Switchback Coffee Roasters — for a long time the properties were used commercially and basically grandfathered in but never were rezoned as commercial,” Schultz said.
He described the older part of the Springs as the area south of Constitution Avenue and west of Union Boulevard, which includes the downtown corridor and Old Colorado City.
Peck was unaware of the property’s residential zoning when she signed her lease to open the market in October 2016.
“We thought we were renting a commercial space because there was a business here before,” she said. “There’s always been a business here for, like, over 100 years.”
However, when Peck looked into applying for a liquor license, she learned the property was not zoned commercial.
“We finally decided to file to be able to sell beer and wine and as soon as we mentioned it, someone brought up that we are zoned residential,” she said. “Next, we just wanted to open up the back patio and the city came down and said we would need a variance for that because of our zoning.”
It was then the city recommended Peck contact the property owner about starting the rezoning process.
“We just didn’t realize it was that big of deal,” she said. “We asked our landlord to apply to be rezoned and that’s where we are at, going through that lengthy process.”
The city of Colorado Springs has five office and commercial zoning districts, Schultz said.
“We did adopt a mixed-use zone a number of years ago, however, nobody has really utilized that mixed-use zone,” he said. “It was intended for newer development out east or up north if people want to implement more of a mixed-use development.”
Part of the city’s rezoning process includes seeking input from neighbors who might be impacted by the zoning change.
“We had the market’s neighborhood meeting a few weeks ago and a lot of the concern was not actually about the market,” Schultz said. “It’s the fear of the unknown with that type of zoning and what other uses could come in if the current business fails.”
But the city is able to prohibit certain uses from operating at the location within the rezoning process.
“In my review that I sent to the owners, I told them we can put conditions of record that are attached to the zoning,” Schultz said. “In this case, we eliminated a lot of uses within the C5 zone district, which is the district we are proposing to put the market property in. We targeted uses we don’t feel are neighborhood friendly.”
Bars and marijuana dispensaries were just two examples of uses banned by the city.
“We even took some uses that normally would be permitted and made it conditional because we felt the neighborhood should have an opportunity to put in their input,” Schultz said. “We also put some operational conditions that we are going to be asked to be put in the development plan such as hours of operation permitted at the location.”
The market has no plans of changing its hours, Peck said.
“We don’t want to be a late night bar because lunch and early dinner are definitely our jam,” she said. “We’re more for soccer moms with strollers or people who just want a beer or shot with dinner. Drunk people are against what will be profitable for my business.”
The liquor license also would allow the market to partner with area breweries for special events.
“I could close early one night and have a beer dinner with one of the local breweries,” Peck said. “I can’t do that right now — or have other fundraising events that really benefit from and need those alcohol sales to be successful.”
Schultz reiterated that mixed-use neighborhoods in the Springs aren’t exactly a new concept.
“At some point, a lot of cities started to suburbanize and spread out,” he said. “That’s when city planners started using what’s called Euclidean-type zoning, where residential is one part of the city and then commercial and industrial are in their own locations.”
Russ Ware, co-owner of Good Neighbors Meeting House, said the mixed-use concept is a throwback to a time before cities were spread out with suburbs surrounding them.
“My grandparents were very familiar with having a café on the corner down the street from where they live, but my parents never lived like that,” he said. “They had to drive 5 miles just to get outside of houses.”
Ware believes certain businesses as neighbors can even add value to nearby residential properties.
“Do I think our business increases the value of properties neighboring? Absolutely,” he said. “Would a late night tavern or strip club? Of course not. Anyone can be a bad player and mess things up, but I think there are all sorts of positives like markets, cafés. Restaurants with alcohol can be very positive and that’s what a neighborhood should be.”
Several homeowners at the market’s neighborhood meeting told Peck they purchased their homes because of the proximity to her business.
“Say they have three little children, and mom is going crazy. There is nothing better than walking down and getting a sucker or juice box,” she said. “If mom just needs an onion, she doesn’t have to pack all the kids up in the car.”
The market property’s rezoning is in the review process, Schultz said, explaining it then will go to the planning commission before ultimately being voted on by city council.
“I think it was interesting at the neighborhood meeting that there definitely seemed to be an age difference between those who supported its rezoning and those who didn’t. There is definitely a generational thing to this growing mixed use as well,” he said. “Residents can expect our upcoming comprehensive plan — when it goes before council later this year — there will be an effort to create more sustainable and walkable communities included.”
Disclosure: Colorado Publishing House employee Teri Homick is an investor in the Willamette Market and Deli.