Colorado Springs — Kathleen Krager, Engineering Division Manager for Colorado Springs says that a limited-access highway on the east side of Colorado Springs is “not needed.” In the proposed revision to the Banning Lewis Ranch (BLR) annexation agreement released in December the city proposes to return to the landowners, including majority owner Nor’wood Development Group, slightly over half of the right-of-way mandated by the original 1988 annexation agreement.
Originally intended to serve a build-out population of 160,000 residents, the annexation agreement required dedication of a 300-foot right-of-way to the city for the Banning Lewis Parkway (BLP). For comparison, the right-of-way for Powers Blvd. north of Research Parkway to Interquest Parkway is about 300 feet. Krager is recommending reducing the BLP width to 142 feet.
Krager says that some parts of the right-of-way have been dedicated, but not all of it. At the time, the annexation agreement said that the landowners “shall dedicate the right-of-way owned by the Annexor for the B-L Parkway (typically 300 feet in width).” The agreement had no language only requiring dedication as the property is developed as is the case with other internal roadways mentioned in the document. Why the entire right-of-way remains un-dedicated is unclear.
At a Feb. 2 City Council public listening session Krager said, “I think most of what I’ve heard tonight revolves around the Banning Lewis Parkway as an east side bypass for the city. First let me state that when the original annexation went in place BLP was not planned as that east side bypass. It stopped at Woodman Road.”
However, the original BLR master plan zoning map (shown below) clearly shows a cloverleaf intersection at Woodman Road with the BLP continuing north and northwest through the county to connect with Powers Blvd. somewhere north of the current intersection with Research Parkway. The vicinity inset on the master plan zoning map (shown below) shows Powers Blvd. connecting with I-25 on the north.
The city’s 2011 Major Thoroughfare Plan map (shown below) also shows the BLP as a freeway from Woodman Road on the north extending all the way south and ending east of Fountain south of Squirrel Creek Road. At the Feb. 2 meeting Krager admitted this, saying, “On the south side of BLR the parkway was proposed to connect the Powers Blvd. alignment and then continue on along that alignment and swing back to the west as you circle around Fountain. Even that part of Powers Boulevard is under consideration between the town of Fountain and CDOT as to whether that section of Powers Boulevard should ever be built.”
Powers Blvd. was originally conceived as just such a limited-access freeway, but according to city Councilman Bill Murray that idea didn’t last long. “When Powers was built, Powers was supposed to be a limited access highway, until the developers got ahold of it. Now you have streetlights every hundred and fifty yards,” he said in a Jan. 16 interview, “We’ve had to build extra lanes into Powers and we’re not done yet. Because we didn’t have access roads on either side, that cost the public.”
Krager’s conflicting statements
Murray’s comment highlights the ambiguity of what Krager means when she says, “We tend to ignore the vision and do yet another circle around the city as if we didn’t have enough of those. To do yet another circle around the city for I-25 you would have to go to the Black Forest area.”
There are no limited-access freeways around or through Colorado Springs other than Interstate 25 because Powers was converted into to a surface arterial at the request of developers.
But there is at least one other option, and that is to connect the BLP to Powers Blvd. at Research Parkway by turning East Woodman Road into a limited-access freeway to connect the two. This would take advantage of the already-planned extension of Powers to I-25 at Northgate. The right-of-way for this connection has already been acquired by the Colorado Department of Transportation, although there is currently no active project or funding to complete it.
Krager says that the BLP was planned as a freeway to serve the planned 79 million square feet of commercial and industrial density, not residential needs. “Now if we’re looking at a predominantly residential with neighborhood and community retail and some office space but not a lot you’d have a lot less traffic with that,” said Krager.
The existing annexation renegotiation only calls for about 10 million square feet of commercial and industrial development. This, she says, eliminates the need for a freeway. She also says that a freeway would interfere with a “grid system” set of roadways she has in mind.
Krager is referring to the assumptions made in the TichlerBise study upon which the city is basing its economic projections and is using in its closed-door negotiations with Nor’wood. The study used existing single-family housing densities currently being built by Oakwood Homes at the north end of the ranch as well as representations from Nor’wood Development Group, the owner of the vast majority of the ranch, that they don’t intend to build out to the currently approved zoning densities. But there is no guarantee that Nor’wood cannot decide to build out to the existing zoning densities after half the BLP right-of-way has been vacated by the city.
In an interview with Complete Colorado, Nor’wood Vice President Tim Seibert said, “we can also build under the existing zoning.” He told Murray the same thing. “He told me that because of the annexation agreement the way it is, they have every legal right to come in and build it exactly as the master plan is today,” said Murray, “They can build whatever was in the master plan in 1988, they could build those 11 story buildings with high density.”
Councilman Bill Murry bucks the rest of the City Council
Murray says that the city is being short-sighted by trying to rush the renegotiation through the process in secret and that narrowing the BLP right-of-way is a bad idea. “Do we really want to reduce the size of that right-of-way when it’s the perfect size for an eastern beltway connecting to I-25 on the north through the new extension of Powers and reconnecting south,” he told Complete Colorado, “It’s all about strategic planning and strategic thought. They want us to rush to judgement.”
Krager said, “Colorado Springs is not at the congestion level for example and the density levels that are needed in the city to really call for a bypass.” “If we do need a beltway it will be because of development continuing to occur to the east. Let El Paso County accommodate that rather than using a city road to accommodate it,” she said.
What the city is now planning with respect to amending the original annexation agreement is currently unknown because the City Council, the Mayor’s office and the City Attorney are all keeping the negotiations with Nor’wood under wraps, citing “attorney-client privilege” and using closed executive sessions to keep the renegotiation of the annexation agreement a deep secret. Annexations are normally a public process, according to the City Charter. Why a renegotiation of an annexation agreement is being kept secret is unclear.
Murray has made this secrecy a bone of contention in several public meetings. He walked out of an executive session Feb. 21 in protest of the continuing practice of keeping negotiations about revising the annexation agreement from the public. Murray was excoriated by other council members for his insistence on transparency and open public meetings at a Feb. 26 work session.