Unfazed by opposition, Kum & Go still planning store in 2300 block
Citizens question compatibility; Goodwill admits financial need for sale
Despite almost unanimous opposition at a neighborhood meeting attended by about 75 people June 27, Kum & Go officials are moving forward with preliminary plans for a convenience store and gas station on the south side of West Colorado Avenue's 2300 block.
“We are continuing to work to develop a new store at this location,” writes Megan Elfers, a spokesperson for the Iowa-based, 11-state company, in an e-mail July 10. “We have not yet submitted a formal proposal to the city, though it is in development. We believe that the community can benefit from the convenient shopping experience that our stores provide.”
These words echoed the comments of Kum & Go representatives at the June 27 meeting, who additionally emphasized the company's three-generation family ownership, commitment to environmental construction practices and a policy of contributing 10 percent of store income to charitable causes.
However, the predominant citizen reaction was that a 5,000-square-foot convenience store, open 24 hours a day with 10 gas pumps, would be incompatible with Old Colorado City's Historic Shopping District a few hundred feet away, as well as with the adjacent residential neighborhood.
Westsider Joyce Cheney drew applause during the citizen question/comment part of the meeting when she said, “Maybe as gas stations go, it's a good gas station. But it is still a gas station.” She then walked up to the front and asked for a show of hands from those against the idea. Nearly everyone in the room raised a hand.
Complicating the issue is that Kum & Go would be buying the nearly 2-acre property from Goodwill Industries, which needs to sell for financial reasons, according to its CEO, Karla Grazier. The nonprofit had operated on both sides of the 2300 block for about half a century before buying a larger facility to consolidate its activities on Garden of the Gods Road last year. Grazier spoke up at the meeting when several attendees charged (or implied) that Goodwill's deal with Kum & Go was betraying the Westside. “Unfortunate-ly, we don't have any money,” she told the throng. “We need to sell what we have.”
The meeting revealed that Goodwill is also close to selling its north side of the street - except for the retail store, which will remain at 23rd and Colorado - to Junior Achievement (JA). This news met with no objections from attendees, as JA plans to operate community-oriented student training within the north side's existing buildings, based on the description by Goodwill real estate representative Jim Spittler.
Spittler also spoke at length about Goodwill's sales efforts in general. He said the nonprofit had not forgotten a neighborhood meeting it had called in the fall of 2011, when the basic public consensus was for some kind of low-key usage encompassing both sides of the 2300 block that would be in keeping with Old Colorado City and the surrounding neighborhood. “We took this to the market as a redevelopment project,” Spittler said. “We went to all the major developers. But there was no interest for a year. One group showed some interest, then they stopped returning our calls.”
At that point, he said, Goodwill made the decision to “market the property in halves on either side of the street.” That's when JA came into the picture. And then “we were approached by Kum & Go, and they made a good offer,” he said. Goodwill was impressed by its “philanthropic and environmental” integrity, as well as its pledge to “try to do some things that would incorporate it into Old Colorado City,” Spittler said.
Still, both he and Grazier offered apologies to the citizens for the current situation. Expanding on the financial issue, Grazier said that Goodwill is “taking a haircut in selling this side [the north side] to JA, because they're another nonprofit.”
“When we first met with Kum & Go, we felt the same way you do,” she continued. “But we liked their commitment to working with the community.” However, she concluded, “I'm sorry, this was what we thought was the best of what we could do.”
Among a contingent from Kum & Go, the lead speaker at the meeting was Kolby Jones, whose business card describes him as a real estate development representative for the company. He said that in roughly the past two years the company has opened 10 stores in Colorado Springs. “The city's been great and we're happy to be here,” he said.
Kum & Go has already submitted a development plan for another Westside location, about a half-mile from the 2300 block at 21st and Broadway. (See story, Page 5.) In answer to a meeting question, Jones said the sitution is not either/or and the company wants to have stores at both locations.
He said the Goodwill property was selected based on company studies that showed a “hole in the market” in that area.
Kum & Go's preliminary plans call for the demolition of the existing Goodwill buildings on the south side of the 2300 block prior to its own construction.
Just west of the project area are four residences facing onto 24th Street and two businesses at the west end of the block (a laundromat and bank drive-through/parking lot).
The store building is proposed to have a brick exterior, with “aesthetically pleasing” landscaping that will “buffer it as much as we can,” Jones said.
He elaborated that the company is open to ideas and the plan is actually a “blank canvas. We really want to know what we can do here.”
But most commenters rejected the concept outright. The legality of the plan even came up. Retired Westside business owner Shanti Toll quoted from the Westside Plan - an ordinance passed by City Council in 1980. Part of it directs the city to “extend Old Colorado City historic renewal one block further to the east and west along Colorado Avenue.” By definition this would include the 2300 block.
Other criticism touched on potential fumes from the pumps, light from the facility spilling into the neighborhood, an unfavorable contrast with Old Colorado City's “mom and pop” business style, whether there's a real need (with existing convenience stores/gas stations two and four blocks away), a design that “looks like Iowa” and whether the benefits (15 jobs and a thriving business) are worth, to quote one speaker, “selling out the neighborhood.”
Two elected officials at the meeting - Manitou Springs City Councilmem-ber Coreen Toll and County Commissioner Sallie Clark - spoke against the proposal. Toll requested that Goodwill “honor the pledge you made to the neighborhood for a more compatible use for the area.” Clark termed the idea “kind of a backward step for our historic area… It has in-and-out traffic flow when we're trying to make the area more pedestrian-friendly.”
Willing to work with Kum & Go was long-time Westside civic leader Dave Hughes. He dislikes the proposed building's “modern style,” but said he's trying to “keep an open mind,” He suggested that with design changes and informational panels of some kind, the place could become an “historic attraction.”
Jones suggested that a “workshop” be held at some point to get with citizens on plan-revision ideas. In her e-mail July 10, Elfers said no workshop has been scheduled yet, but “we will be seeking feedback from the community on our current design and how we might potentially incorporate design components to best fit in with the heritage neighborhood plan.”
Ryan Tefertiller, the planner assigned to the project with the city's Land Use Review Department, said at the meeting that the project would need Planning Commission and City Council approval, and that “the criteria includes harminousness and compatibility.”
Another neighborhood meeting will “probably” be scheduled after Kum & Go makes a formal submittal to the city, Tefertiller said.
Public hearings would also be required at commission and council.
Westside Pioneer article