by Rick Langenberg
A lengthy process aimed at overhauling and finalizing new development rules for Cripple Creek may finally be headed for final public review later this month. During a recent meeting, the city staff continued its effort to update the council on proposed regulations, dealing with zoning, historic preservation, signs, downtown development, residential districts and other building-related subjects. In essence, the city wants to have a more development-friendly community, while maintaining its historic look. “We want to give them (developers and business owners) more options,” said City Administrator Ray White in a previous interview.
According to Cripple Creek Development Director Larry Manning, the final product could be presented to residents in mid-April, with a possible adoption slated for May. The project has been underway for more than a year, but the city changed direction last summer when elected leaders decided to give the previous project consultants, Thomas and Thomas, the boot. Some leaders complained that the new rules compiled by consultants, originally referred to as a form-based code system, were getting way too complicated and restrictive for simple requests. Officials complained that the consultants were taking a “boiler plate” approach to what may have worked for Colorado Springs and trying to apply it in Cripple Creek.
Under the new approach, headed by Manning, the rules still call for strict guidelines for development and casino action in the historic and business sections of town. But much more leeway will be permitted in the business buffer zone, which will be expanded. Also, sections of the historic district will change, under the new code.
However, the new rules will offer more leeway in the area of signs. The city plans to drop its long-time prohibition against electronic, digital signs that are quite common in Woodland Park and other communities in the area. But this electronic sign freedom comes with a catch. Casinos and business properties that opt for elaborate digital displays with colored graphics and creative videos, such as what is exhibited outside the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, can’t have banners or sandwich boards. “Everyone seems happy with the proposed sign changes,” said Manning. He said one of the main goals of the pro-electronic sign effort is to reduce clutter. The city previously lifted a crackdown against banners as part of an experiment. But according to elected leaders, this policy turned into a disaster, resulting in a downtown bombarded with temporary signs and tacky banners. City leaders then ended this enforcement moratorium, following a number of complaints. And although the rules are still quite firm in the business area, the new unified code would permit larger structures, as long as developers/property owners make their projects comply with certain historic standards. The unified code strives to achieve an overall type of building product, rather than emphasizing specific land use rules. City leaders have made it clear they want to open the door for signature projects, such as a new resort/convention center, even if such a facility would clash with current height restrictions.
The Cripple Creek gaming community currently faces growing competition from Black Hawk, which is trying to do more Las Vegas-style casino/resorts. Manning stressed that the new code is a Cripple Creek document and not structured to emulate what is done in other communities.