Gold Hill Mesa project means big changes for 21st Street

       As the Gold Hill Mesa subdivision expands in the years ahead, the road along its western boundary - 21st Street between Highway 24 and Lower Gold Camp Road - will do the same.
       Although all details have not been finalized, basic plans have been roughed out between the Gold Hill development group, which will be paying the bulk of the cost, and Colorado Springs traffic planners. These plans call for the mostly three-lane roadway - lacking curb, gutter or sidewalk much of the way - to become a four-lane, median-divided thoroughfare. This is expected to mitigate traffic doubling to 41,000 vehicles a day by 2025 from Gold Hill's anticipated 1,000-plus homes and dozens of businesses, according to Tim Roberts, senior transportation planner for the city.
       In addition, the Bott stoplight will move to Broadway, frontage roads will be added on either side and the intersection of Lower Gold Camp Road and 21st Street may become a roundabout, he said.
       The changes could be a blessing as well as a curse for the dozens of businesses that line the west side of 21st. Of four long-time 21st Street merchants the Westside Pioneer talked to, the main responses were that the median will restrict access but, as noted by Curt Jones of the Bear Creek Lanes bowling alley, the added traffic on the street could mean more customers.
       An early challenge to the median concept is coming from Van Briggle Art Pottery and the Ghost Town tourist attraction. (See adjoining story.)
       In an interview with the Westside Pioneer, Roberts outlined the key changes that are envisioned:
  • The road width will roughly double to 124 feet, including a 20-foot-wide median, with most of the new right of way on the Gold Hill Mesa side, where fill dirt will be brought in where needed. The Gold Hill Mesa Township Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) will pay for most of the improvements (the cost is not yet tabulated but is expected to be much higher than the $140,000 the LLC is paying for Highway 24 upgrades). The rest of the right of way, in varying amounts, will be taken on the west side of the street from existing property owners/businesses, who will also be expected to pay for (if it's not there already) curb and gutter in front of their properties.
  • The stoplight at Bott Avenue will be removed, while a light at Broadway Street will be added. Currently, the light at Bott Avenue also handles traffic from the driveway into 7-Eleven and the new Advance Auto Parts. The Bott light originally went in because of the police substation that was on Robinson, but that substation was discontinued in the early 1990s.
  • Broadway Street will be the main access into the new development from 21st Street. This northwest part of the 214-acre Gold Hill Mesa property is anticipated to have a concentration of businesses, though not for several years because the project will occur in phases, and the commercial phase only exists in concept form at this time.
  • The stoplight at Lower Gold Camp Road may be removed and replaced by a roundabout. This is still under consideration, but is favored by Roberts and Gold Hill Mesa Township LLC manager Robert Willard, because it would keep traffic from having to stop below the crest of the 21st Street hill and because roundabouts tend to have fewer and less violent accidents than standard intersections. Bo Hamilton, whose Mill Hill Saloon has been in the 1600 block of South 21st Street for more than 20 years, disagrees. Such a circular method of traversing an intersection “just screws up the flow of traffic,” he said.
  • A connection with Skyview Lane will be built from the Gold Hill Mesa subdivision as part of a later phase of Gold Hill Mesa. (Phase 1 is currently being graded and may include a rough layout for the road.)
  • The Skyview intersection, as well as those at Busch, Wheeler and Bott avenues, will sport what transportation planners call a “right-in, right-out, left-in” median configuration. Illustrated on this page, such an intersection will allow left turns from 21st Street but only right turns onto 21st from the side streets. The city is reluctant to put stoplights at those streets because 21st Street is so steep there that “when it's icy, some cars have a hard time getting started,” Roberts said.
  • From Broadway, a block east of 21st, will be a connection to a new frontage road. Paralleling 21st, it will go from Broadway behind the businesses on the east side of 21st and dead-end in the Advance Auto Parts parking lot. This will give motorists leaving those businesses a way to go south on 21st.
  • Pecan Street, which parallels 21st Street one block to the west, will become a frontage road from Lower Gold Camp to Broadway. For this to happen, the city will need to fill in the road's gaps between Skyview Lane and Lower Gold Camp and between Spectra Lane and just north of Brittania Road. The fill-in will occur when property owners in the “gaps” seek to develop those areas.
  • The median will also mean less free access to and from the small businesses lining the west side of 21st Street. The current center lane allows northbound traffic to make left turns in and out of those businesses. In the future, northbound cars on 21st Street will have to make U-turns to get to businesses between side streets and can only make right turns to exit them.

       The city has met with some of the business owners along 21st Street to talk about the planned access limitations. “We're not happy about it, but we can't do anything about it,” said Bo Hamilton, whose Mill Hill Saloon has been in the 1600 block of South 21st Street for more than 20 years. “People will get used to it, I guess, but I hate to see that median going in the middle there.”
       Wes Niswonger, whose family has owned Patsy's Candies for 49 years, said he was unaware of the city's 21st Street plans. But when told by the Westside Pioneer about the median, he said he'd be “bitterly opposed to that.”
       If other drivers are like him, he estimated a median would cost him 40-50 percent of his business from the south part of town. “I'm the kind of person that won't fight that kind of hassle,” he said. “It's like Academy Boulevard. I won't go there. You have to find streets and go around and go through someone else's parking lot.”
       He was also not keen on giving up some of his property for right of way, based on drainage and access issues. “We're on a steep slope as it is,” he said. “I don't know of any merchants (along 21st) who could give up frontage and have anything left.”
       Curt Jones, who has owned Bear Creek Lanes for 11 years, is not opposed to the city plans, other than having to pay an estimated $30,000 for curb and gutter. Regarding the median and the right-in/right-out design, “If people want to come bowl, they will find a way to get here,” he said. Regarding the additional vehicles that would be largely generated by the new Gold Hill Mesa across the street, “More traffic is good,” he said.
       Business people along 21st have an unexpected ally in Robert Willard, manager of Gold Hill Mesa Township LLC. Willard is not complaining about his costs, which are partially covered by tax rebates resulting from the project technically falling under the category of urban renewal; he is more concerned about building something that won't be popular with the businesses.
       “If I was a business there, I'm not sure I'd like the design because of the customer access limitations,” he told the Pioneer.
       He said he did not realize the city had already met with the business people, but he thinks additional neighborhood meetings on the subject could lead to a more responsive design. “Maybe I shouldn't be so sensitive to the the businesses on the Westside, but I am concerned because they are my (Gold Hill Mesa's) neighbors, and you want to be sensitive to the issues of the people around you, because then you end up with a better project, in my opinion.”
       Hamilton is also opposed to the proposed roundabout at Lower Gold Camp and 21st. He thinks such a circular method of traversing an intersection “just screws up the flow of traffic.”
       The business owner is also concerned about putting Pecan all the way through. It will be just as steep as 21st, except that parts of it will be in residential areas with cars parked on both sides and trees keeping sunlight from melting the ice as fast. “It's going to be like a toboggan slide,” he predicted.

Westside Pioneer article