Westside in 2012:
Busy year, but fire undeniable as top story
The year 2012 was newsworthy in many ways for the Colorado Springs Westside. Numerous projects for roads or buildings went into construction or moved toward that stage. Public discussions focused on vagrancy, schools and open space. A Coronado High sport won its first-ever state title. The nonprofit
group operating the city-owned Westside Community Center renewed its contract. And, for the second straight year, top international cyclists swept down West Colorado Avenue.
But in terms of widespread and lasting impacts for 2012, nothing came close to the fire that roared out of Waldo Canyon. That event tops the Westside Pioneer's annual list of the top 20 Westside Stories of the Year.
1. The Fire - Around noon June 23, in the midst of a windy heat wave throughout the region, columns of smoke appeared above a ridge line west of the Garden of the Gods. Raging through mountainous, hard-to-access canyons and forests, the blaze quickly spread, eventually blackening 18,000 acres and endangering many homes. Assistance came from around the state and nation, with large tankers making slurry drops and up to 1,600 firefighters from 34 states augmenting local efforts and restricting the destruction mainly to U.S. Forest Service land. Nevertheless, two people died and close to 400 homes (along with the Flying W Ranch) were destroyed or damaged in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood June 26. Also, evacuations were required of several neighborhoods west of I-25, Cedar Heights, Kissing Camels and Holland Park (west of Centennial Boulevard). Pre-evacuation notices went to residents of the Westside's Grandview, Pleasant Valley and Holland Park (east of Centennial) neighborhoods. The disaster offered a fresh example of private generosity in the region, with close to $1 million donated to help fire victims. But questions linger, such as how the fire started (authorities have determined only that it was “human-caused”) and how bad future flooding might be. Drainages of concern for the Westside are Camp Creek, South Douglas Creek and Fountain Creek. Grant money is helping pay for some projects to catch flood-carried debris and/or restore burned areas - but local officials say that significantly more funds are needed.
2. Fillmore project - After three years of public meetings and design work, construction began in October on a $7.2 million Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) project intended to improve traffic flow on Fillmore Street west of I-25. The estimated finish date is October 2013. The biggest change is realigning Chestnut Street so that it crosses Fillmore at a new stoplight west of the I-25 interchange. Seven houses needed to be demolished south of Fillmore to allow the re-route; and the two gas stations at the old Fillmore/Chestnut intersection will also be removed (partly in preparation for future interchange work - see Story #13 below). North of Fillmore, the new Chestnut will continue through the as-yet-undeveloped Palmer House commercial center before curving east to rejoin the current Chestnut.
3. Coronado cross-country - Led by junior Bailey Roth's second-place finish, the Cougar boys team won the school's first-ever state championship in that sport in the 4-A race Oct. 27 on the 5-kilometer course at Bear Creek Regional Park. Coming on the heels of the school's first wrestling title in 2011, the runners' triumph marked the sixth state crown for a Coronado team in the school's 41-year history. Helping Cougar chances, the state race was held for the first time on the year-old course at the Westside's Norris-Penrose Event Center; also, two Coronado scorers (Roth and 18th-place Andres Petrucci) transferred to the school this year. Other Cougar scorers were Dan Egger, 11th; Adam Egger, 19th; and Schuyler Vandersluis, 22nd.
4. No Man's Land - After years of civic neglect, the area of Colorado Avenue between 31st Street and eastern Manitou Springs started getting some love in 2012. It started with a $300,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Transpor-tation (CDOT), which led to a consultant study called the Westside Avenue Action Plan. Continuing into 2013, the study seeks to identify improvements that are most needed (and desired by the public), in preparation for an RTA-funded corridor project (see Story #7 below). In a separate No Man's Land effort, an advocacy group of business and civic leaders called the Avenue Task Force met regularly with area law enforcement officials to focus on crime issues west of 31st Street. This has led to beefed-up patrols, increased attention to avenue motels that house problem individuals, a dozen corridor streetlights being turned back on and a publicity campaign urging people to give money to charities instead of potentially self-abusive panhandlers.
5. Panhandling - With beggar numbers increasing, downtown merchants in 2012 proposed an ordinance to ban panhandling there because of the negative effect on shopping. Hearing about this idea, Westside civic leaders asked for similar protection in No Man's Land and Old Colorado City. Chris Melcher, the city attorney, claiming legal precedents, instead wrote an ordinance that banned solicitation of any kind in a 12-block downtown zone only. Concerned that this would cause a flight of beggars to the Westside, the Avenue Task Force asked that a solution instead be found that would benefit the community as a whole. For now, the ordinance is a moot point, because a Federal District Court judge has issued a preliminary injunction against its enforcement.
6. Pinery - Construction began this fall on the Pinery at the Hill. Slated for completion this summer, the two-story venue on the Near Westside's Bijou Hill will have chapel and banquet facilities for full-service weddings and receptions and also provide space for weekday business meetings. The owner is the Pinery LLC, which has operated a similar center in Black Forest for five years. Restaurants have previously operated at 775 W. Bijou St., with the last having closed in 2001. To fill a parking need, the LLC bought a neighboring property and demolished the century-old house that was on it. In public meetings, concerns were expressed about the facility's size - larger than a previously approved Pinery plan four years ago - but also relief that an active business will end years of hilltop vagrancy.
7. Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) - At the November general election, voters overwhelmingly approved the 10-year continuation of the .55 percent capital tax for the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA). Between 2015 and 2024, the work by RTA contractors will include tackling more than $60 million in transportation projects at seven Westside locations. One of those will be the reconstruction of the West Colorado Avenue corridor through No Man's Land, Results from the “action plan” study (see Story #4 above) are expected to lead to a final design in 2013, followed by a $12 million project using earmarked city and county RTA funds by 2015.
8. VA clinic - After a groundbreaking on Veterans Day (Nov. 12) a contractor for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) started work on the new, $10 million VA clinic on Centennial Boulevard south of Fillmore Street. Due to open in May 2014, the 80,000-square-foot building on 18 acres will be called the Colorado Springs Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC). It will replace two current outpatient VA clinics, at 25 N. Spruce St. and 320 E. Fontanero Street (Suite 200), which have just 36,000 square feet between them. Another plus will be offering more services, meaning fewer trips that Pikes Peak region veterans must make to the clinic in Denver.
9. Red Rock Canyon master plan - The White Acres and Section 16 properties, recently acquired by the city, neighbor the south boundary of the original Red Rock Open Space (accessible from Highway 24 and from 31st Street). So City Parks set out to merge the new open spaces with the old, which required rewriting the Red Rock master plan. Initial public meetings were held in 2011, with more in 2012. The final document will contain usage policies, restraints and recommendations, including current as well as future trail routes. Two proposals from the public process included filling the depleted pond near the Red Rock pavilion and building an open-space visitor center/gift shop off Highway 24. City Parks' final draft will go to the Parks Advisory Board Jan. 10 (see story, Page 11).
10. District 11 utilization - Seeking monetary savings and educational efficiency, District 11 initiated an effort this fall to improve “utilization” across the district. D-11 officials suggested 12 possible actions, including one that would close the Westside's lower-enrollment Midland Elementary and West Middle schools, another that would reduce Coronado High School's attendance and two that would increase it. At six public meetings in December, attendees were given the chance to offer alternate utilization ideas or ask questions of staff. D-11 Superintendent Nick Gledich said he will make recommendations on the plan this month; a final Board of Education vote is tentatively planned in February.
11. Highway 24 - After eight years that included numerous public meetings on the Westside, the state is solidifying plans to expand Highway 24 between Eighth Street and Ridge Road (though no construction funding exists as yet). A last public meeting/hearing was held in June on a draft environmental assessment (EA), which has since been federally approved. CDOT and consulting staff are now looking at comments from the public and other government agencies so as to shape the project's final “decision document,” CDOT project engineer Dave Watt said last week. In connection with a project phase that the EA lists as its “highest priority” - an interchange at Highway 24/Cimarron and Eighth Street - CDOT is buying the old Express Inn at Eighth and Cimarron for right of way, Watt added.
12. Cimarron/I-25 - Just 1,200 feet away from Eighth Street is the interstate, where plans are moving forward to build a new Cimarron interchange (including ramps) that will tie in with the future Cimarron/Eighth interchange. Its estimated $95 million construction cost remains unfunded, but plans were boosted in 2012 - first in the spring, when the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments Board of Directors made Cimarron/I-25 its top regional priority, and then in the fall, when the Colorado Transportation Commission allocated $5 million for design and an additional $1 million for right of way. CDOT plans to hire a design firm early this year, Watt said, making construction possible by 2014.
13. Fillmore/I-25 - Progress also occurred in 2012 on replacing another half-century-old interstate interchange that serves the Westside. At Fillmore, where the street goes over the freeway, CDOT has chosen a deck-layout concept called a “diverging diamond.” This is a style in which street traffic is directed to the left, eliminating the need for left-turn signals at the ramps. A less complex project technically than Cimarron's, the Fillmore interchange is estimated to cost $11 million to build, and it would tie in with the ongoing Fillmore/Chestnut project just to the west (Story #2 above). A consultant firm is working on the Fillmore/I-25 design, which is scheduled to be complete this spring (a year earlier than Cimarron's). A construction funding source has not yet been identified.
14. Westside Community Center - When the city decided it could no longer afford to subsidize the Westside Center at 1628 W. Bijou St. three years ago, the Center for Strategic Ministry (CSM - a community action arm of the Woodmen Valley Chapel) stepped forward, seeing the center as an opportunity to extend its city-wide efforts at community outreach and family stabilization to the Westside. Pleased with the results of its initial three-year contract, CSM contracted with the city in November for three more years. Center offerings include classes, programs for all ages, a nurse center, free fitness center and space for meetings, activities and special events. Center Executive Director Dick Siever said future plans call for more programs for middle and high schoolers.
15. Gold Hill Mesa - The 210-acre residential/commercial development east of 21st Street and south of Highway 24 had an eventful year, including building a promised wall around the previously existing Villa de Mesa subdivision, creating a realigned intersection with 21st Street (which allows continued access for Villa de Mesa), gaining city approval to frame new homes near 21st Street and drawing up concept plans for a 60-acre commercial area in the north/northwest parts of the property (formal plans may be submitted to the city this spring). In less favorable news, metal thieves stole (and cut into pieces) a historic jail that Gold Hill's development partners had planned to display when the commercial area was developed.
16. From welfare office to hotel - When El Paso County government moved its Department of Human Services (DHS) offices to the Garden of the Gods Road Citizens Service Center in 2011, the former DHS property at 105 N. Spruce St. was put up for sale. In 2012, the Jarosz Family Partnership, which owns the nearby Clarion Hotel, paid $2.4 million for the 2.44-acre site, which includes a four-story building and a 300-space parking lot. The Jarosz group started an estimated $4 million remodeling project this fall and plans to open the site as a Holiday Inn Express by summertime. The county is still trying to sell its other former DHS building at 17 N. Spruce.
17. Historic plaque theft - Last January, metal thieves stole a brass plaque from a stone slab in front of 2818 W. Pikes Peak Ave. Placed there in 1936, the plaque had identified the site of an 1860s fort that provided early Colorado City settlers a “defense against the Indians.” Police were unable to recover the plaque, so the Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS) asked for donations to fund a replacement. The new plaque, installed at a ceremony Oct. 28, is made of less valuable powdered steel and held in place with hard-to-remove expanding nails. The old plaque, installed in different times, had been secured with simple screws.
18. USA Pro Cycling Challenge - For the second straight year, top international cyclists sped through the Westside Aug. 24 as part of a Colorado Springs-hosted stage in the seven-day race around the state. In 2011, the city had hosted the inaugural event - a time trial between the Garden of the Gods and downtown. In 2012, the Springs had Stage 5, in which the Westside provided part of the final distance in a 117-mile, mostly downhill trek from Breckenridge. The racers were watched by scattered crowds through the Garden of the Gods and Old Colorado City, with several thousand downtown. City officials applied to be a host again for the third annual Challenge in 2013, but organizers plan a different route and some new towns.
19. School noteworthies - For the first time in its four-year history, the Coronado High robotics team won the regional competition in Denver - a 48-team competition that included team-controlled robots shooting basketballs at a hoop… The original Bristol School site was sold, with the new owner announcing plans for 10 lofts and a coffee house on the 1.1 acre property at 730 N. Walnut St. (plans still need to go through City Land Use Review)… Holmes Middle School was one of just two state schools to be chosen for a third three-year span as a School to Watch through the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform.
20. Business/development projects - In September, the Colorado Mountain Brewery, a restaurant/brewpub, opened in the historic Roundhouse commercial center at 21st Street and Highway 24… After being closed for 11 months for major renovations, Jorge's restaurant in Old Colorado City reopened in January 2012… The 46-year-old Dunkin' Donuts at 806 W. Colorado Ave. was remodeled with a 700-square-foot addition… Major renovations began on the 13-acre Garden of the Gods Campground, now owned by RVC Outdoor Destinations of Tennessee. The nearly 40-year-old facility will be renamed Garden of the Gods RV Resort… The Space Foundation, which in 2011 moved from the older Westside to 4425 Arrowswest Drive, off Garden of the Gods Road, opened a visitors center, available to the public.
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