The city has new leadership.
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There are urgent issues for council to address.
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Spring has sprung (if you ignore the weekly snowstorms) and with the warmer weather and longer days has come a batch of newly sworn city councilors. Following the April 6 election, City Hall has four new faces and five incumbents at the dais. While the philosophical leanings of this nascent council aren’t too different — based on election season platforming — from the previous council, there’s a lot for this new grouping to consider from Day 1. So here’s a cheat sheet to help them get started.
1. Address the affordable housing crisis. Some point to the city’s low affordable housing inventory as a reason U.S. Space Command chose Huntsville, Alabama, over Colorado Springs. Even if that’s not the case, sky-high housing costs will make it harder to recruit businesses and employees here. Mayor John Suthers set a goal in 2018 to add 1,000 new affordable housing units (a drop in the bucket) to the city’s inventory by 2023. This council will be around two years from now and should work with developers to ensure the mayor’s goal is met.
2. Do something about transportation infrastructure. It’s no secret — the Front Range is the place to be. New developments are primed to move earth in the next couple years — consider the enormous Banning Lewis Ranch, for instance. Traffic is already a nightmare on many Colorado Springs thoroughfares. We can’t keep laying down more asphalt and hope to keep up. New councilors should beef up our public transportation infrastructure and increase accessibility to all parts of the city without needing a car.
3. Don’t be laissez-faire with coronavirus guidance. Gov. Jared Polis and the state did away with a comprehensive COVID-19 dial this month, leaving decisions regarding masks and some capacity limits to counties and municipalities. The mayor has already said the city has no intention of setting rules. COVID variants with unknown virilities are spreading and just over a quarter of Colorado has been fully vaccinated. Creating a dial for the city would demonstrate leadership when it is needed most.
4. Related to No. 3 — as businesses begin to reopen, city council should innovate and work with them, modifying regulations to encourage growth. A good place to start? Permanently allowing to-go alcohol sales to boost tourism and shore up restaurants and bars.
5. Show a stronger commitment to parks, open space and trails. The previous council voted 5 to 4 in February to approve a package of parks amendments that will shrink the city’s dedicated parkland requirement by 2 acres per 1,000 residents, from 7.5 acres to 5.5 acres. The ordinance also increases fees paid in place of dedicating parkland and requires those fees to be used in areas where housing that initiated the fee is built. The new council should revisit the issue and amend the requirements to 7.5 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents and create measures that will ensure our parks, trails and open spaces will be protected from future — and inevitable — growth. Once that land is gone, it’s gone.