'Voluntary' city annexation policy takes shape; would apply to No Man's LandNo one can say how long it might take or if it will actually happen, but at least now City Council has a basic policy for annexing small unincorporated areas such as No Man's Land.
A lengthy discussion at City Council's work session July 22 led to a consensus that the city should not take an overly aggressive approach, even in the area of Colorado Avenue west of 31st Street that's slated for a major Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) civic-improvement project.
Still, the council discussion left a sense that the avenue is a logical focus point and finding low-key ways to encourage voluntary annexation there is desirable. Already in the works, as part of the RTA effort, is the transfer of avenue responsibility in No Man's Land (between about 31st and Manitou's city limits) from the state to Colorado Springs.
In the project area (and close by it), the city has identified 23 unincorporated properties. Based on discussions at past meetings by Westside groups, annexing the properties on the avenue could help solve lingering problems with panhandlers/criminals, utility service inconsistencies (some of the properties are still on septic), a jurisdictional hodge-podge (some properties on the south side of the avenue are in the city and some in the county) and overall complications that could reduce the economic upside resulting from the RTA redevelopment.
However, council in its work session did not choose to pursue the most proactive option for the avenue, a process called “forced annexation.” It's a legal maneuver by which the city could require an election of the property owners if more than half of them said they favored annexation.
No one on council called for it to be tried for No Man's Land, including Merv Bennett, who had put the matter on the agenda.
Describing the progress to date, Schueler said city staffers have only met among themselves, city officials and local volunteers - namely the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) and Avenue Task Force (two volunteer entities that have worked to bring the avenue annexation question forward). He added that no effort has been made so far to bring the 23 property owners into the discussion, but agreed that should be done. One of his slides proposed involving OWN and the Avenue Task Force in that process.
One drawback to voluntary annexation is that property owners of unincorporated land don't have a huge incentive to come into the city, Schueler and Planning Director Peter Wysocki explained. Such owners would have to be OK with paying $8,000 or more in one-time city fees, legal notices, platting and possible utility costs. Also, their property taxes would likely increase. For businesses, there would be the added hit of having to charge customers the city's higher sales taxes and, where applicable, its tourism-based lodging and rental tax (LART).
“What are the incentives to annex? Very little,” Wysocki said at one point.
Still, the city has some selling points, Schueler's presentation brought out. Among these are ongoing utility-bill savings. Comparisons were provided in charts for properties paying inside-city or outside-city rates. (See chart graphic on this page.) A residence using 1,100 cubic feet a month for water and 700 cubic feet for wastewater would save more than $500 a year. A commercial property using 3,000 cubic feet a month for water and wastewater would save nearly $1,500 a year. However, the latter incentive would be less enticing for those properties with septics (unless they fail), because Springs Utilities policy is to require annexing properties to get on its wastewater system.
Other perceived positives are “potential insurance advantages, potential enhanced public safety response and enhanced redevelopment options,” one of Schueler's slides stated.
Schueler's presentation included a graphic with utility details on each of the 23 unincorporated avenue-area properties, showing which ones get water and/or wastewater service from Colorado Springs Utilities. Two of the properties are undeveloped, the information shows. Of the rest, all get water service from Springs Utilities and 13 wastewater (8 are on septic).
Also known, according to meeting discussion, is which properties are in the Fountain Creek flood plain (12 of them entirely and several others to a great degree, the data shows, which could reduce their value).
Councilmembers were clearly impressed with the future possibilities on West Colorado, especially considering that roughly $15 million in all will be spent on the RTA project.
“There is long-term redevelopment potential for the western entrance to the city,” City Councilmember Jan Martin said. “It [annexation] would be a real win for everybody.”
Mary Gallivan, an OWN board member and also active with the Avenue Task Force, had a similar thought. “I feel it's a good time to annex these properties since Colorado Avenue is being rebuilt,” she said. “There is a good opportunity for economic development over there, to improve the Westside and bring revenue to the city. After all, we have a lot of visitors to our area who go into Manitou and Old Colorado City. This would be an excellent time to do this.”
Although not recommending the forced-annexation option, Schueler told councilmembers they “could at least consider an exception for this area for limited purposes for a limited time.”
But the idea was similar to a downtown-targeted residential-development waiver idea, which the council majority recently opposed because of implied geographic favoritism. See Westside Pioneer article.
“We should be equitable across the board,” City Councilmember Andy Pico summed up.
Also affecting council's thought process was the reality that a few other neighborhoods want to annex unincorporated pockets in their areas and if anything special is done on the Westside they would expect the same. Thus, a less expensive, voluntary approach “could be a model to apply elsewhere,” Bennett said.
Council members did not express opposition to one possible break for annexation applicants - that some city fees could be reduced if several property owners applied together. Such discounts could be justified because staff time for several would be about the same as for one, Wysocki said.
Westside Pioneer article