Retail plan next to Bear Creek Park draws fire

       A concept plan to Colorado Springs Planning proposes four units of retail plus a restaurant on 1.67 acres of land on the west side of Eighth Street next to El Paso County's Bear Creek Regional Park.
       The property owner is Junior Achieve-ment, which plans to sell the parcel to a developer once the necessary zone change is obtained, according to John Gatto, a member of the JA board of directors.
       He said the goal is for a good-looking development that is “compatible” with other buildings along Eighth Street and good for the community. “We want to be good neighbors,” he said.
       Leading the opposition to the project is lawyer Ken Jaray, whose office is across the street, off Olympic Village Drive. Not only are no other retail stores along Eighth Street there, the JA property is bordered by Bear Creek Regional Park, he said.
       Jaray described the project as a “devastating change of use for this property… To allow a commercial strip mall immediately adjacent to one of our most important urban parks would signficantly change the feel and use of the park.”
       JA's motivation to do right by the community stems from its long history of community service, Gatto said: “JA helps up to 50,000 kids in the Pikes Peak region.”
       He added that the plan calls for single-story retail, noting that this would have less impact on neighboring businesses than the current office zone, which allows buildings three stories high.
       To help sort out the concerns, James Mayerl, the city's lead Westside planner, has recommended in his review letter to JA that a neighborhood meeting be held. No date has been scheduled yet. The item could potentially go to Planning Commission in August.
       The JA property and the open land west and north of it were previously part of the Norris-Penrose Events Center (then called the Penrose Equestrian Center), owned by El Paso County, according to County Administrator Terry Harris.
       The JA land came into private hands as the result of a land trade which gave the county a piece south of Rio Grande that was needed for center parking, Harris explained.
       The land around what is now the JA property became county park land when the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Foundation bought what was mainly the center's building complex area from the county earlier this year, he added.
       JA bought the land four years ago. According to Jaray, the entity had indicated at the time “they were going to build a small office building for their own use,” Jaray said.
       Gatto agreed that JA had initially planned such a building; however, “We got a donation of a building (elsewhere) and decided to sell the ground,” he said.
       He explained that the retail idea was spurred by the revival of the Events Center, with the foundation bringing back the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo. “With the proximity to Penrose and the rodeo moved back, we envisioned a steakhouse sort of restaurant,” Gatto said. Information that JA supplied to the city suggests that retail shops could “complement events at Penrose: i.e., western apparel, cowboy boot and hat sales, equestrian supply shops, Southwestern art and artifacts, etc.”
       With this in mind, the concept plan suggests facing the shops away from Eighth Street and toward the Events Center. However, he noted that this was just a suggestion; also, there could only be limited controls on what kinds of retail would actually go in once the development was built.
       Mayerl's review letter addresses one potential retail-type control. “I think that some retail uses, principally automobile related uses (car sales, car wash etc.), would not be related to the equestrian center and would be more intensive (lighting, traffic, noise etc),” the letter states. “I will recommend those types of uses be restricted from the uses allowed.”
       An agreement would also be needed with the county for shared use of an access road to the Events Center off Eighth Street, Harris pointed out.
       According to the concept plan, this road would serve as the south entrance to the retail development. A new curb cut would allow access at the north end of the development.

Westside Pioneer article