Downtown, Colorado Springs, Office, City, Springs

The issue: 

Comprehensive plan isn’t comprehensive.

What we think: 

More strategy is needed with infill development.

Tell us what you think: 

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The long and contentious saga of the proposed 420-unit apartment building at 2424 Garden of the Gods Road seemed to end on Aug. 24 with Colorado Springs City Council’s 5-4 decision reversing its previous approval of rezoning the property for residential use.

Many residents of surrounding neighborhoods opposed the project, citing adverse impacts on wildfire evacuation, traffic, Garden of the Gods Park and bighorn sheep. Presenting council with a petition signed by more than 7,000 Springs residents, opponents sought to make a clear and convincing case against rezoning. 

They prevailed. But this won’t be the last time city council and residents butt heads regarding infill development. And this project is emblematic of the disconnect between the city’s master plan, PlanCOS, and what neighborhoods actually need. Does the plan just support infill for infill’s sake? And shouldn’t emergency planning be part of any larger conversation when we’re increasing density? 

As Colorado Springs has grown and changed during its history, developers and neighborhood residents have often clashed. General Palmer’s community banned most industrial uses and the sale or manufacture of alcoholic beverages. Saloons, breweries, brickworks and glass manufacturers sprung up in Colorado City, a tough working-class municipality. In the 1960s, as redevelopment threatened the historic North End neighborhood, residents banded together and successfully fought off high-density and commercial development proposals. More recently, neighborhood associations in Broadmoor Bluffs fiercely opposed a 60-unit affordable housing complex that city council eventually OK’d.

But with 2424 Garden of the Gods, city council took a more measured approach, appearing to balance emergency response considerations against the appeal of infill development. 

Infill is important to the city’s economic and fiscal health. By taking advantage of in-place infrastructure, high-density housing such as that proposed on Garden of the Gods Road doesn’t require new roads, new parks, new major drainage structures or new police/fire stations. 

However, the city has a history of approving development without consideration for the longterm impacts to neighborhoods as a whole. This is particularly true when it comes to emergency response in the wildland urban interface. The bottleneck that formed during the Waldo Canyon evacuation was a stone’s throw from the proposed apartment site at 2424 Garden of the Gods. Considering our history of wildfires, now would be the time to require development proposals to incorporate emergency management strategies — before they come before council.

And this sort of strategic thinking shouldn’t be limited to WUI or to emergency planning. Many support thoughtful infill development, especially within the city’s core. In the past decade, councils have actually shown a deft hand with infill developments there, creating a more vibrant and appealing Downtown.    

We’ve blossomed into a business-friendly, growth-encouraging and increasingly youthful city. Will the infill boom continue? It’s hard to imagine that it won’t, and, as we said, there will probably be similar clashes in the future. Many may involve razing existing structures and building anew (there’s plenty of historical evidence for this), particularly if the supply of vacant infill land continues to shrink. Developers, attorneys, neighbors, activists, builders, property owners, renters and tight-fisted taxpayers should all have a seat at the table. 

In our messy, imperfect municipal democracy, everyone must have a voice, nobody should ride for free and city councilors will have to make difficult decisions. But backing those decisions with well-reasoned strategies and with a deliberate picture of what the city should be will reduce inevitable conflicts and create a community that is safe and works for everyone.