Colorado Spring – The Colorado Springs City Council heard presentations from Peter Wysocki, Director of Planning and other staff members on Tuesday, Jan. 9th about amendments to the Banning-Lewis Ranch zoning map. Annexed in 1988, the 24,000-acre ranch has largely lain dormant thanks to a high-density zoning plan that Wysocki and Mayor Suthers’ Chief of Staff Jeff Greene characterized as outdated and “inflexible.”
The 1988 annexation included a “hard zoned” specific master plan with a lack of a well-defined phasing plan that has “sterilized” the property of nearly two-dozen small landowners, making it difficult for them to develop their property. “The 80s plan hasn’t worked for anyone,” said Councilman David Geislinger.
The original master plan covered the entire ranch. In the intervening 30 years smaller parcels have been sold off to new owners. However, the master plan approved in the 1980s still controls how development must proceed. Revisiting the zoning will allow the new landowners and developers to apply on a parcel-by-parcel basis for project approval according to current land use regulations and development densities.
Wysocki, Green and several Councilmembers insisted that there is no intent to “de-obligate” what developers must pay for by way of public infrastructure.
The tight schedule for the amendment process and a dearth of opportunities for public input were on Councilman Tom Strand’s mind. The current schedule calls for a decision on March 13th with only two public town halls. Strand suggested a six-month review schedule with more public hearings for citizen input.
Wysocki said that there are “more evolved methods of development” today than were available when the property was originally annexed. Councilman Pico said that the “central government planning of 30 years ago” is no longer appropriate and that the city can reduce costs to homeowners by amending the annexation agreement in part because the development density under the original zoning is much greater than the city’s current zoning regulations allow.
Green said that unincorporated El Paso County was never intended to provide services to the approximately 200,000 people who now live outside the city. Pico said, “Water districts are draining the aquifers. We need to get them back in with renewable resources.”
Geislinger, who remembers the atmosphere in Colorado Springs in the 1980s, characterized the mindset as being one that favored quick expansion and development of the city. But that development hasn’t appeared because of the restrictive zoning plan set in place in the 1980s. Revisiting the annexation agreement is “what’s best for the city now and in the future,” he said.
Councilman Andy Pico says that thanks to “leap-frog development” in El Paso County, Colorado Springs is losing out on an important source of tax revenue. “Falcon exists today because Banning-Lewis Ranch has these restrictions,” he said. He wants to bring taxpayers and their purchasing power back into the city rather than losing the revenue to commercial development in unincorporated El Paso County.
Councilwoman Jill Gaebler is concerned with new development at the ranch. She worried, “We aren’t maintaining what we have.”
Councilwoman Yolanda Avila echoed this concern saying that the city doesn’t have the resources to fix the streets it has. She said, “I’ve lived here for 13 years and my road has never been fixed.” She also expressed concerns about transit for the disabled and the costs of expanding police and fire services to the ranch, saying “we are so far behind [financially] on the police department.”
One of the proposed changes calls for a reduction in the width of a right-of-way for the unbuilt Banning-Lewis Parkway from 300 feet to 142 feet. The parkway is currently planned to run south from Woodman road, meandering through the property and ending southeast of the airport.
When asked if it was prudent to narrow the right of way rather than preserving it as a corridor for a limited-access, high-speed eastern beltway that would connect to I-25 on the north via the planned Powers Road extension and reconnect with I-25 south of the city Wysocki said, “That’s a very good question.”