No end in sight for historic flooding at motel, avenue

       Every time there's a heavy rain or rapidly melting snow, Gary Salinas gets out his push broom and shovel. He knows he's in for a few hours of clearing mud in front of his Mecca Motel at 3518 W. Colorado Ave. - that is, once the flood waters have diminished.
       Salinas has been doing this a long time. A clipping of a 1981 newspaper photo, shot only two years after his parents bought the business, shows him pushing a similar broom.
       “I'm the guy shoveling the mud,” he said in a recent interview. “That's how people know me.”
       It's not just his personal problem. In a storm of any size, the flood tide spreads into the westbound driving lanes - Salinas has photos showing passing vehicles sending up jets of water - even clearing the crown of the avenue at times to lap up against the liquor store and storage warehouse buildings across the street.
       The main cause of the standing water is no secret - undersized pipes and inlets on the avenue in front of the motel. The city even budgeted $150,000 for the work three years ago.
       However, the work did not get done then and, for various reasons that have put Salinas at odds with the city, is not likely to happen anytime soon.
       One of those reasons is that City Engineer Cam McNair, who came to the city in 2005, does not think the design for the budgeted work goes far enough. “It would help in minor storms,” he said. “But it's not a total solution for the biggest storms.”
       Where Engineering chiefly differs from Salinas is in proposing curb and gutter in front of the motel. From a pure drainage standpoint, McNair explained, “this would more clearly define his access and keep his drainage in a defined location, off his property.”
       Currently, the Mecca, whose motel units surround its off-street parking area in the shape of a horseshoe, has unfettered vehicle access from the avenue. Curb and gutter would limit that to two access points, one for entrance, one for exit. In addition, Salinas would lose the parking he has in front of the motel, along the street, that includes space for an 18-wheeler. This has come in handy during events such as the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, when racing teams show up with big rigs, Salinas pointed out.
       Another disagreement for Salinas is with City Parks. As the Midland Trail plans have taken form in recent years, part of Parks' desired route passes in front of the Mecca - meaning that if the city-envisioned curb and gutter gets installed, it would be in conjunction with a 10-foot-wide sidewalk.
       The trail now mostly follows the old Denver & Rio Grande railroad right of way from America the Beautiful Park to 21st Street. Sometime this year or next, plans call for the next phase of the trail to continue west, winding up at 31st Street and Highway 24. From there, Phase 3 would follow Fountain Creek to Ridge Road, turn right at Ridge, cross Colorado Avenue and turn left in front of the Mecca. West of the Mecca, the trail would continue as a sidewalk to the Garden of the Gods Campground (basically city limits) where the creek swings to the north side of the avenue and an easement has been secured. Manitou Springs is working on plans to connect to the trail from its side.
       According to Lieber, there is no alternate route. Continuing west on Fountain Creek is out because existing buildings back right up to it in places, and situating the trail along the south side of the avenue wouldn't work because that would force a mid-block crossing to the campground. By contrast, on the north side, other than the Mecca, sufficient trail right of way exists from Ridge to the campground, he said.
       “A safe place to cross the avenue is important,” Lieber said. “Crossing at Ridge Road would be much safer than mid-block.” He added that the city is also contemplating a future traffic signal at Ridge, “which would make it safer.”
       Salinas sees the matter differently. The trail/sidewalk would not only cost him his parking out front, but he can picture a future with transients hanging out there waiting for the liquor store across the street to open. Now he can chase them off, because it's private property, but it would be different if it was a public trail.
       “I don't want the trail in front of me,” he said, although he amended that by saying he would sell his frontage to the city once the trail actually exists “across the street from me.” Selling it any sooner would just hurt his business, and the frontage would be worth more at that point, he said. Even if it means another 10 years of brooming and shoveling because of the drainage issues, “it's a matter of principle,” he said.
       One point Salinas emphasized is that the Mecca is not just a business. He and his wife, Lizabeth, live there.
       Also looming over the Mecca is the future of the avenue area where it's located. Sometimes called No Man's Land because of its older structures and dearth of public improvements, the area has been attracting some attention in the last couple of years. A Manitou Springs blight study east to about 33rd Street led the town to form an Urban Renewal Authority, which could bring about redevelopment nearby. Other scrutiny has come from Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) planners looking at a Highway 24-related greenway, as well as from city and county officials. Proposed changes range from safety-geared infrastructure upgrades including curb and gutter and sidewalks (city/county) to more radical ideas, such as a greenway option that would relocate both the creek and the avenue to aid redevelopment.
       Salinas is not opposed to such possibilities. He's even ready to join in. He said he has a plan to rebuild his 30,000-square-foot property for a use other than a motel. He declined to give specifics at this time, but noted that in addition to the avenue, he has legal access onto Ridge Road, which would increase the value of any redevelopment on his site.
       In any case, if the greenway goes through, there's no reason for the city to put the curb and gutter and trail in front of his motel, he believes. “I don't think it will (go through), but if it does, why do this now (the curb and gutter)?” he asked.
       The two sides have talked, but with Salinas refusing to sell (or donate) his frontage to the city, there is an impasse with no end in sight.
       McNair believes that the motel owner ought to be pleased at the prospect of having his drainage finally fixed, even if it costs him some of his frontage. From a bigger- picture standpoint, such problems are not unique, he said: “There are hundreds of these kinds of drainage issues around the city.” He expressed optimism that “we'll work this out with Gary over time.”
       Salinas is less hopeful. He suggested that he has a good case for a lawsuit. He estimated that his cleanup costs over the years amount to about a quarter of a million dollars. He also noted that some of the water that collects in front of the Mecca is not from rainfall there, but flows to it from the city's Garden of the Gods Park. The Mecca is a “low spot” between Ridge and 36th Street, and the latter street especially carries a brown, curb-to-curb river of water to the avenue, Salinas' photos show. McNair does not dispute this, noting that a new inlet to collect the 36th Street run-off is part of the city's larger plan.
       One possible solution (though expensive) exists. Salinas said he has the Mecca site listed at $2 million. Instead of just buying his frontage, “they could buy my whole place,” he said. But McNair said that the city has “no interest in buying his property.”

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