Old Glory needs a permit
Bank’s flags, 1972 sign among 64 violations in city sweep of avenue
The city just wanted to enforce municipal laws in a fair manner, according to a Colorado Springs Planning official.
The end result for 64 Colorado Avenue businesses between I-25 and Manitou Springs - more than 50 of them in the Old Colorado City Historic District - is a new annual fee to pay.
A quiet controversy has been swirling on the avenue since Planning's Sue Matz, who is in charge of the city's revocable permits program, sent out letters about a month ago to those business owners advising them of violations.
Most of the problems Matz found were signs, awnings and merchandise displays encroaching onto the public right of way.
One letter went to Pikes Peak National Bank because of the American flags it flies outside its building at 24th Street and Colorado Avenue. The flags hang from inserts about eight feet above the sidewalk. “How does that encroach on anything?” asked John Georgeson, chief executive officer of Pikes Peak National Bank. “I hope enough business owners get together and talk to City Council about what's going on.”
A short distance up the avenue is Don Bates Insurance. Its sign, installed flush against the façade, still juts about 10 inches into the right of way, Matz' measurements showed.
According to part-owner Barbara Bates, the sign has been there - legally, it was thought - since 1972. “That really amazes me,” she said of the city letter. “I hope something can be done. We have a photo of when this was a livery stable. There was a sign there then.”
Matz said the city wants to work with the business owners. “We're not making anybody take anything down,” she said. “We just want to get things in compliance.” However, she clarified that if a business refused to cooperate, the city does indeed have the authority to eliminate the violation, such as taking down a sign.
The encroachments stem from the avenue layout. Most of the buildings come right up to the sidewalk, so anything that businesses put out in front - in the air or on the ground - is in the right of way and needs a permit, Matz pointed out.
The letters did not state the amount of the fee. In a phone interview this week, Matz explained how she's handling that. Normally, it would cost $115 for the first time and $40 every year after that, but, because the encroachments have generally occurred in good faith, the continuing fee of $40 a year will apply - except in cases of sidewalk cafes, which would be $70 for eight seats or less and $115 for more than eight seats, she explained. “We'd like to give them a break because it's true that some things have been there 20 to 30 years and they didn't know they couldn't do that,” she said.
Why did she take on the effort at this time? Matz said it was in response to “a lot of complaints” from businesses and residents, not just in Old Colorado City but in the downtown core as well. People were getting upset about perceived favoritism. And, since she had the “time and training” to do the work, the city decided to make the effort to finally enforce the revocable permit laws completely.
Asked what kind of response she's gotten so far, Matz said she's received three payments and heard from about half of those who got letters. “Most folks have been pretty nice,” she said. “Some have been angry.”
Ken Emery, owner of El Dorado Art Gallery in the 2600 block of Colorado Avenue, said he threw away his letter, which had informed him that his sign is out of compliance. “I don't think it (the law) applies,” he said. Not only is his sign within the city-allowed square footage, if it violated any laws the city would have pointed out the problem when permitting it nearly four years ago, he reasoned.
Emery's theory on the real reason for the letters is that the city “is trying to get more revenue.”
In terms of money, if each of the 64 alleged violators bought a $40 permit each year, that would bring $2,560 into city coffers annually. Matz said such money would go into the general fund. Asked if it might be allocated for Colorado Avenue/Old Colorado City civic improvements, she said that would be up to City Council.
Westside Pioneer article