Blight conditions officially cited in No Man’s Land
Plan, market analysis set for meeting Aug. 21 as Manitou moves toward Urban Renewal Authority

       After identifying blight conditions in a survey done this spring and summer, consultants for the City of Manitou Springs will present a market analysis and a concept plan for the area nicknamed “No Man's Land” Monday, Aug. 21.
       The presentations are scheduled for a public meeting at Manitou Springs City Hall, 606 Manitou Ave., starting at 7 p.m.
       The Leland Consulting Group, working with Nolte Associates Inc. - the chief consultant for a study that could lead to a Manitou urban renewal authority - had unveiled its findings at a meeting in Manitou July 31. The area, called the “Manitou Springs East Corridor” in the survey document, covers a roughly 1 ½-mile stretch of Manitou/Colorado Avenue between the Manitou-Highway 24 interchange and 33rd Street and (except for about a block and a half west of 33rd Street) between El Paso Boulevard and the highway.
       The Manitou Springs city line is a few hundred feet west of Columbia Road; between there and 33rd Street, it's mostly Colorado Springs on the north side of the avenue and El Paso County on the south side. The area as a whole is known for older buildings and a dearth of such public amenities as sidewalks, curbs and gutters.
       According to Anne Ricker, who is heading up the Leland effort, the goal of the Aug. 21 meeting is to get feedback from the “stakeholders” - property owners and business people in the survey area - to consultants' ideas that will be presented that night. These will provide “opportunities for growth and revitalization” in response to the blight findings, she said.
       The market analysis is being prepared by Leland and the concept plan by another sub-consultant, Thomas & Thomas Planning. “We'll see if it [the presentation] represents an image they [the stakeholders] like,” Ricker said.
       One likely idea that will come forward is to make better use of Fountain Creek. “The creek now is more nuisance than amenity,” said Ted Kamp, a Leland planner who did much of the survey ground work. “Hopefully, in the plan phase we could make it an amenity and resolve the flood plain issue at the same time.”
       Although the study area includes parts of Colorado Springs and El Paso County, a Manitou Springs urban renewal authority could only apply to properties within Manitou city limits. It is not known whether Colorado Springs and El Paso County might wish to use the Nolte-Leland information in some manner, although representatives of both entities have shown interest in the process.
       Such an authority would allow special financing opportunities that could attract investors, according to past information from the Manitou Springs Economic Development Council, which obtained the grant that paid for the survey.
       Kamp said the Manitou effort is unlike some he's seen, in which a developer pushes the city for an urban renewal designation so as to facilitate a project which may result in the elimination of many or all of the traditional older uses. “The best I can tell with this project, it's close to what the statute intended,” Kamp said. “The city said, 'Wow, this is a depressed stretch, so let's turn it around.' ”
       Once an authority is in place, the city can then “look for ideas for catalyst projects,” he added.
       The Leland report listed 11 state-defined blight categories in which one or more of the 100 private properties in the study area met the criteria. The study involved a visual inspection of each property from the street; only in a few special cases did the consultants (with permission) go onto the property to take a closer look, Ricker explained.
       The single most prevalent condition relates to potential flooding. All but about 10 of the properties are in the flood plain, the survey shows.
       Another category that took in most of the properties was “unusual topography or inadequate public improvements.” This category included public improvement needs; Ricker noted that, for the purpose of recording such problems in studies like this one, they are typically assigned to the nearest properties.
       One issue that was not specifically mentioned in the survey was the Adams Crossing bridge, which has no sidewalks or bicycle lanes. However, sidewalk issues appear elsewhere in the report.
       About half of the properties were said to have “site deterioration,” and a fifth had structures that were identified as “deterioriating.” The site problems were chiefly signage in disrepair, neglect/ poor maintenance, trash/ debris/weeds and parking surface deterioriation, Ricker said. Structural issues included cracking foundations and bad windows, doors, walls, roofs, gutters, fences, gates and loading areas.
       While about 90 percent of the properties had “unsanitary/ unsafe” conditions (caused in large part because “flood hazard” and “pedestrian safety” were in that category, Ricker said), only one property was identified as having a building that is “unsafe for living or working.” This was a Manitou mobile home park in which long exterior extension cords were being used for power by numerous units, elaborated Ted Kamp, a planner with Leland.
       Other issues that showed up in the “unsanitary/ unsafe” category were poorly lit or unlit areas, cracked or uneven sidewalks, grading/steep slopes, unscreened trash or mechanical equipment and abandoned vehicles.
       Additional categories where the Leland team identified blight were poor street layout (for instance, the difficult access to Garden of the Gods Campground), faulty lot layout (including accessibility) and high service or site under-utilization.
       “High crime incidence” was noted in the latter category, as well as the “danger to life/property from fire or other causes” category. But only two locations, both in Manitou, were identified as having serious crime issues. Kamp said no law enforcement officials from Colorado Springs or El Paso County were contacted for the survey.

Westside Pioneer article