Colorado Springs adopts first comprehensive plan since 2001

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PlanCOS

 

PlanCOS has won official approval, but the hard work of implementing it has just begun. As the plan goes into effect, the city will continue to seek input from business owners, employees and residents.

Led by a blue-ribbon steering committee, thousands of residents, business owners and employees and representatives of the city’s nonprofits helped shape the 300-page document that outlines a path to a vibrant future over the next 20 to 30 years.

“PlanCOS reflects our community’s commitment to our founder’s vision: to create a city that truly matches our beautiful scenery,” Mayor John Suthers wrote in an introduction to the plan. “[It] positions Colorado Springs to take full advantage of its economic opportunities to create and maintain the very best places to live, do business and experience the enhanced quality of life that comes with being part of a forward-thinking, growing and engaged city.”

The city’s first comprehensive plan since 2001 provides a framework for achieving that vision and will serve as a guiding document for city policies and priorities.

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The steering committee unanimously endorsed a draft of the plan on Sept. 27. The city Planning Commission recommended its adoption Nov. 15, and City Council approved it Jan. 22.

The plan

The plan’s framers came up with a vision statement for the city’s future:

“Colorado Springs will become a vibrant community that reflects our engaging outdoor setting as pioneers of health and recreation. Our city will be filled with unique places of culture and creative energy, sustainably designed around our natural environment. We will attract and retain residents of all generations with an innovative, diverse economy, and dynamic, well-connected neighborhoods that provide viable housing opportunities for all.”

Six themes emerged from the community conversations and form the plan’s framework.

Vibrant neighborhoods: Forming diverse and safe neighborhoods with gathering areas, a mix of housing types, transportation choices and a shared sense of pride.

Unique places: Strengthening our vibrant downtown and creating other walkable, healthy and magnetic activity centers throughout the city.

Thriving economy: Fostering an environment of inclusiveness and economic diversity; an innovative and adaptive workforce; advancing existing and new employment sectors; investing in quality of life; supporting the military; and expanding the sports ecosystem and the city’s Olympic City USA brand.

Strong connections: Transforming transit corridors to support health and mobility needs, upgrading infrastructure and improving regional connectivity.

Renowned culture: Promoting arts, culture and education as cornerstones of the community.

Majestic landscapes: Designing the city around our iconic landmarks; integrating parks, streetscapes and natural areas.

The plan explores and elaborates upon these themes through a series of big ideas that further express its vision and values.

Implementation

The plan’s primary purpose is to establish an overall context and vision for the physical development of the city, but its success depends upon implementation.

“We are extremely motivated to have the plan implemented,” Planning Director Peter Wysocki said. The last chapter of PlanCOS outlines six key projects and implementation strategies.

Wysocki said the Planning Department has identified three top initiatives and has already begun working on them.

“One of our top three projects that we will undertake over the next several months is to start the update of our annexation plan, which was adopted by the city in 2006,” he said. “It needs to be, obviously, updated since we continue to grow as a city. Land economics have changed and how we look at indications, so that’s already programmed into our departmental work plan.”

PlanCOS terms attainable housing “arguably the most important but also most challenging topic addressed,” and the Planning Department has started working on a plan to create and maintain a broad spectrum of housing types and programs, including accessory dwelling units, Wysocki said.

The third priority, he said, is updating the city’s subdivision and zoning code, a project that will take upwards of two years to complete. Among the components the plan identifies as being in need of review and updating are improved user access, simplification of the number of zoning categories, refinement of standards and processes pertaining to reinvestment in and redevelopment of mature areas, and revision of the standards and process for appeals of land-use decisions.

The previous comprehensive plan was fairly rigid in its separation of land uses. The new plan supports mixed-use development and smaller lot sizes, Wysocki said.

“Now the code sets a minimum single family residential lot size of 6,000 square feet,” he said. “What we are seeing is a number of developers, customers and homebuyers want to have a little higher density … [that] we call a small-lot planned unit development.”

Longer term, the plan recommends updating the city’s 2001 intermodal transportation plan, development of a SmartCOS plan in partnership with the private sector and creating a neighborhood planning template.

The template would systematize and streamline the process of creating new neighborhood plans and updating existing plans. Neighborhoods could incorporate the features they want to see — density, land use, street lighting, sidewalks, parks and more.

“The city can then prioritize capital improvement projects based on the input from those neighborhood plans,” Wysocki said.

“We want to create new neighborhoods and revitalize old neighborhoods to create a sense of place,” he said.

Asked if PlanCOS encourages gentrification, Wysocki said he thinks it does just the opposite.

“Having funky neighborhoods is exactly what this plan enables,” he said. “It improves the ability for a neighborhood to retain its organic, natural character. Nothing in the plan suggests that there should be any specific development type or any particular character.

“Yes, there is always a risk of gentrification,” he said, especially when reinvestment and redevelopment of older neighborhoods produce price escalations. “But if there is no reinvestment, there’s a risk of neighborhoods continuing to decline. … It’s a balance.”

Connections

PlanCOS was developed over several years through workshops led by an 18-member steering committee drawn from the city’s businesses, nonprofits and citizens.

“One of the things we tried to ensure was really looking out for future trends [and what] growth and development means for all sectors — real estate, employers and industries,” said Tim Seibert, a Nor’wood Development Group vice president and member of the steering committee.

“The plan is just a starting point for guiding redevelopment and new development,” Seibert said. “I think that will continue to evolve, and there will be lots of opportunities for folks to really work on how to make the community fulfill those and support business development.”

The plan recognizes that Colorado Springs is a dynamic community that is continuing to grow, said Doug Stimple, CEO of The Classic Companies and steering committee member.

“From a population and economic opportunity standpoint, it indicates that one of the goals is to be viable economically and provide appropriate jobs for the citizenry,” Stimple said. “It talks about land use policies relative to big-picture visions and notions of how Colorado Springs will grow in the future.”

What makes neighborhoods unique is integration of land uses, he said. “You want to keep a hog farm away from a high-density development, but commercial, industrial and residential all can be incorporated into a thoughtful plan.”

The plan also recognizes that “infrastructure costs have to be understood and managed,” he said. “One way of doing that is having more assessed value … by having increased density on a number of our remaining properties.”

Affordable housing, called attainable housing in the plan, is another issue that every community is confronting. The plan doesn’t purport to answer that but highlights it as an ongoing issue — one that needs to be addressed by the city, Stimple said.

“There may very well be another series of recommendations of another task force” on housing affordability, he said.

PlanCOS is unique in that it includes a thriving economy as a key component.

“It recognizes that there needs to be an integration of the commercial and industrial uses within our community,” Stimple said. “This plan … isn’t necessarily the tool by which we achieve that healthy economy. I think what it recognizes is that a healthy economy is a byproduct of a well-functioning city and therefore our land use policies need to contemplate that.”

PlanCOS presumes the importance of downtown, but also encourages walkability and diversity in suburban areas of the city, said Carl Schueler, the city’s comprehensive planning manager.

“We view PlanCOS as the jumping-off point to other city plans and initiatives,” Schueler said. “We want people to connect to it.”

Wysocki said business leaders “will really see the benefit when we start to amend the planning and zoning codes. We will have another steering committee for that, and that will probably be more individual business owners. … We hope to start thinking about that process in more detail mid- to late-year and initiate work in early 2020.”