Cutbacks end saga of city’s lead Westside planner

       Among the scores of people who will leave city employment in 2010 is James Mayerl, who has been a key figure in Westside land-use issues for nearly a quarter- century.

On a development-review map, outgoing city planner James Mayerl points to an area he's come to know quite well - the Westside.
Westside Pioneer photo

       As the lead Westside planner for most of those years, he has worked with developers on nearly all of the projects of any signficance on this part of town, including Gold Hill Mesa, Kissing Camels, Angler's Covey, the Garner Street RV Park and the recently approved Sentinel Ridge and Cathedral Ridge developments, as well as others that are still coming together, such as Uintah Bluffs, the Colorado Springs Health Partners medical campus and the Palmer House redevelopment.
       Mayerl had not sought retirement, but in the face of the city's budget shortfall going into 2010, he agreed to take the Voluntary Attrition Retirement (VAR) that the city made available to its older, veteran workers.
       With about 14 employees, the office where the Wisconsin transplant started in May 1985 is now about half the size it was then, including the elimination this coming year of the comprehensive planning section. “We had Bob Isaac then,” Mayerl recalled of his early years. “He was a strong city mayor. There was no Doug Bruce and no TABOR law. The town was conservative in a lot of ways, and more financially solid than it is now.”
       Interviewed in December, he said he will miss his planning work on the Westside, which he described as being “in general more interesting than the east side.” Supporting this assertion, he noted the differing topographical and geological conditions and “the make-up of the people, varying from very conservative to very liberal, from laissez-faire types to neighbors who want to influence and control everything.”
       Overall, he described the Westside as “less of a monoculture” than newer parts of the city, where modern zoning typically ensures that all single-family homes are typically in one area and all commercial in another.
       As a city planner, Mayerl's job was not to create projects, but to review proposals from developers and provide recommendations based on city codes as well as personal judgment and experience. In the latter sense, he said he drew on a philosophy that infill is inherently good, as long as compatibility is part of the mix. Infill “could help bring energy to the Westside and also the downtown,” Mayerl said. He had even hoped (in vain) that if enough infill occurred over time, bringing in new residents with children, District 11 would be convinced to keep more of the Westside's older schools open.
       But the infill concept is not necessarily shared by all Westsiders, who traditionally relish their open-space areas (even the ones that are privately owned). Such sensibilities can be quickened in people when they live near properties that face major infill proposals. Mayerl has seen this many times. “It's hard because neighbors don't like to see change,” he said. “They like to think that once they're in, that will be the last development.”
       An adjustment Mayerl and other city officials have had to make over the years relates to increased neighborhood involvement in the land-use review process. He credited the advocacy efforts of Jan Doran and Westsiders Sallie and Welling Clark for helping make that happen. “They asked to be a part of the process, and we respected that,” Mayerl said.
       Overall, he thinks the adjustment has worked out well. “It takes longer, and it might not be easier, but it helps to provide a balance,” he said. “People who have lived in the area a long time can add their own unique perspective to the process.”
       Looking ahead in his own life, Mayerl has no immediate job prospects. “I'll probably take one to two months off,” he said, but after that “I'll have to do something for my sanity.” There are also his two sons in college who, without some help from their parents, will be “debt slaves” when they graduate, Mayerl said.

Westside Pioneer article