Council review of greenway urged
Issues include tax losses, property owner concerns

       The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has no immediate plans to present a Westside Highway 24/greenway status report to elected officials, based on responses to questions at a “stakeholders” meeting Aug. 6.
       However, City Council member Jerry Heimlicher wants those plans to change, he explained in an interview this week.
       “At the informal council meeting on Monday (Aug. 13), I'm going to bring up the greenway. City staff has been representing that they are going ahead with our guidance - which they don't have,” said Heimlicher, whose council district includes much of CDOT's proposed highway/greenway project between I-25 and Manitou Springs. “I will ask CDOT and city staff to do a presentation.”
       He added that he has “plenty of questions about the roadway itself, and now they (CDOT) are looking at closing businesses up toward Manitou, including the Safeway. Why is there need for so much land?”
       The greenway, proposed in conjunction with a major highway expansion, would replace much of the existing private uses along Fountain Creek with public uses to include recreational, educational, historical and entertainment opportunities. Part of the land need - though not required for the highway project - is for an effective flood plain in which (unlike now) there would be no structures.
       El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, a regular attendee at highway/greenway planning meetings, is working with Heimlicher to get answers on the highway/greenway tax impacts (resulting from planned business removals), individual intersection costs and the implications for individual property owners. Like Heimlicher, Clark has questioned the scope of the project, noting that in a largely unincorporated area (sometimes called “No Man's Land”) along West Colorado Avenue a task force she is on had called for simple public improvements such as curb and gutter and sidewalks; meanwhile, the greenway plan suggests redevelopment that would remove some or all of the businesses through No Man's Land (west of Ridge Road) and into Manitou, replacing them with new businesses and/or open space.
       At Heimlicher's request, he and Clark are to closet with Tim Harris, regional director of CDOT (and the boss of expansion project planning leader Dave Watt) on such subjects in the near future.
       The Aug. 6 greenway meeting was chiefly attended by CDOT and its consultants, along with several city staffers. Others included Manitou Springs representatives (who are seeking a greenway/urban renewal redevelopment project in their eastern corridor), El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark and a few citizens.
       The meeting was described by the CDOT team as a get-together of “stakeholders” in the greenway idea. An accompanying list showed these as consisting of CDOT, Gold Hill Mesa, the City Stormwater Enterprise, Manitou Springs, Friends of Red Rock Canyon, City Parks, Trails and Open Space Coalition, the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), the Old Colorado City Historical Society, City Traffic Engineering and City Planning.
       The meeting was led by CDOT landscape consultant Kevin Shanks, who told the group that after six months of reviewing concepts for beautifying areas along the creek/highway, it was time to “roll up your sleeves” and begin taking steps toward “implementation” (related to grant possibilities that could get parts of the greenway going). He told the group that this change would probably take place in October, when the next planning meeting would occur.
       When a property owner (Tom Perkins of Perkins Auto Body at Sheldon and 21st Street, north of the highway) interjected that he wanted clarification on why his property was needed for the greenway when there appears to be room for it to stay, he was told - after a brief exchange with CDOT consultant project manager Mary Jo Vobejda - that it really wasn't the right time to be discussing his issue. She offered to talk to him another time, commenting that other people in the room were giving up two hours of their day to discuss the greenway. “I'm giving up time from my business,” said Perkins, whose grandfather started the shop 50 years ago.
       Part of the problem, as explained by Vobejda, is that the nearby bridge over Fountain Creek will have to be several feet higher than it is at present, because of flood- plain issues. Also, 21st Street would be wider, taking out part of his parking lot. After the meeting, Perkins elaborated that he would like to see the state consider creative possibilities - possibly even a land swap - that would allow him to continue in that location. But so far that effort has not taken place, he said.
       Although not all businesses in the Fountain Creek/Highway 24 corridor are thriving, removing the ones that are will hurt the city, Perkins contends. “The city is going to lose its tax base,” he said. “That revenue is not going somewhere else.”
       Other property owners at the meeting were John and Cindy Hooton of the Timber Lodge, located on West Colorado Avenue between Colorado Springs and Manitou. Although they said little at the meeting, John Hooton explained later that they have recently been trying to get informed by attending as many highway or greenway meetings as possible - although the dates and times are not being publicly announced. The reason for their interest is their having received conflicting information from state representatives on whether or not they would have to sell their property for the greenway.
       They don't want to move. “This isn't just our business, this is our home,” Hooton said. He also questioned CDOT's ”stakeholder” definition, opining that the true stakeholders are the property owners in the proposed greenway area.
       The Hootons have owned the Timber Lodge for 20 years. Its 24 cabins regularly serve about 4,000 people each summer, Cindy Hooton said.
       At the meeting, Shanks also raised the possibility of expanding the scope of the greenway (not the highway) to take in all of Fountain Creek from Woodland Park to the Arkansas River, possibly in conjunction with envisioned Fountain Creek enhancements between the Springs and Pueblo. The vastly greater project size would mean “more power and momentum,” Shanks said. “I think you'll see things happening quicker.”
       What's happening right now is potential interest from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the federal Core of Engineers, Shanks said. The idea, as CDOT has explained it previously, is not to have the state pay for the greenway as part of its Highway 24 project (which is still unfunded), but to “partner” with local and federal agencies to come up with creative funding solutions - possibly even to develop a greenway foundation, as was successfully done in Denver.
       Near the close of the Aug. 6 meeting, the CDOT team members were asked by the Westside Pioneer if they intended to take their plans to City Council, which has not reviewed the highway plans since July 10, 2006, and has never been shown the greenway proposals. In response, several city staffers insisted that they have been acting in accordance with standing council direction - one mentioned the 20-year-old Midland Corridor plan - and Shanks said he might show plans to council at some point but offered no specific time frame.

Westside Pioneer article