Gold Hill Mesa developers thinking ahead on commercial area concepts

       For years, Gold Hill Mesa lead developer Bob Willard has discussed his vision for a “village-concept” commercial area, sympathetic to people on foot and unexcited about big-box stores with large parking lots.

A rendering from the draft Gold Hill Mesa commercial plan shows the historic smokestack surrounded by a new multi-use plaza. Other aspects include rooftop gardens and solar panels.
Courtesy of Collaborative Design Group

       His ideas, nurtured by a group of local planners, are taking graphic form this year, although a formal submittal to City Land Use Review is still months away. Part of the work will involve finalizing a new, site-specific type of city zone (called “form-based”) that would meet city codes yet be flexible enough to allow changes based on market and social conditions.
       The roughly 60-acre area, off Highway 24 and 21st Street, was conceptually approved years ago in the north/northwest part of the otherwise-residential 210-acre development. The concentration will contain up to 800,000 square feet of retail or office space and even some residential - Willard likes the thought of numerous people living in the commercial area, typically above offices.
       Before a city submittal, the developer plans to run the Gold Hill proposal past interested neighborhood organizations. “We want to get their concerns,” he said. But he has high hopes that citizens will be appreciative. “It will be like nothing else in the country,” he predicted. “We want to make it an extremely special development.”
       A key element is the old smokestack, which is the property's only large-scale relic from the first half of the 20th century, when it was used for gold-milling. In those days, the mill and smokestack were hardly symbols of a healthy commercial-area lifestyle. In the chemical process of extracting gold from Cripple Creek ore, tons of tailings seeped into the soil (a problem that Willard's group has spent many years and dollars addressing), and dark smoke wafted into the sky.
       But Willard, working with his commercial planners, the Collaborative Design Group (CDG), now imagines the site as a paragon of multi-use, cutting-edge environmentalism and social progress.
       The smokestack, in fact, would be the area's focal point. CDG renderings show a park around it with an amphitheater - open space which could also find use as a farmers market, a series of plazas, a lunchtime gathering place, a shelter from bad weather or a shady spot on a hot day.

A rendering, looking east toward the commercial area, shows the Gold Hill Mesa concept for "stepping down" the 21st Street grade.
Courtesy of Collaborative Design Group

       Adding to the effect, renderings show, would be neighborhood streets that radiate away from the smokestack in ways that pass logically through the commercial area and catch the sun at different times of the day, explained Mark Tremmel of CDG. He even suggested future conversations in which a commercial area worker or visitor might say to another, “Meet you at the 'stack.'”
       One of the streets/rays connects to Fountain Creek, which has led to another predicted nickname - “stack to stream,” offered by fellow CDG planner Kristin Ubben.
       Off-street parking would take advantage of the sidehill nature of the area, including many buildings having underground lots that would be cut into the hill below them.
       Planners would seek to avoid retaining walls - “stepping the buildings down the hill avoids that,” Tremmel said. As Willard put it, “The grade is our friend.”
       Other suggested environmental touches would be rooftop gardens, photovoltaic solar panels, even “solar ivy” on the smokestack, Willard said.
       He insisted that he is looking at the project with the same eye he's always had for marketing and the bottom line; he just believes that with the cost of energy going up, “green movement” ideas are making more economic sense.
       So far no commercial entities have signed up for Gold Hill Mesa, but Willard has fielded numerous inquiries from national chains, always asking if they are willing to downsize. He said he plans to put the stores that want the most visibility along 21st Street while in the commercial interior certain street corners would be set aside for chains that are willing to fit into the village plan.
       For Gold Hill Mesa residents, the commercial area is to be reachable via Raven Mill Drive, an interior collector street which intersects Lower Gold Camp Road and also goes past the development's community center.
       The most direct access from outside will be at 21st Street, with plans showing intersections at Broadway Street and Wheeler Avenue.
       How those intersections will be designed - whether stoplights or possibly even traffic circles - will be another part of the scrutiny occurring in the months ahead. City Transportation Manager Kathleen Krager said a new traffic study will be needed.
       Ryan Tefertiller of City Land Use Review is optimistic that details can be worked out. He has had “a number of discussions” with Gold Hill Mesa planners, and overall they have done “a good job addressing technical constraints such as access, slope, circulation, and visibility into their design,” he said in an e-mail.
       In changing the zone from the current, “generic” Planned Business Center (PBC) to a form-based zone, Gold Hill “will be required to produce a draft “regulating plan” which describes the proposed standards such as uses, density, building height, building envelopes, etc. that are required within the proposed zone,” Tefertiller also wrote. “Planning staff will then work with the applicants and with other stakeholder groups to refine the draft. Once the request is formally submitted it will have to go through the standard review process including internal review, Planning Commission hearings, and City Council hearings.”

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