Plans to convert Woodland Park’s old rodeo stomping grounds into a 25,000-square-foot hardware store and associated development–the first phase of the often controversial Woodland Station–have cleared the last political hurdle. By a unanimous vote, the Woodland Park City Council last week signed off on the final plat for a signature project, sponsored by the Woodland Park Downtown Development Authority (DDA). This allows plans for a new $2.5 million Woodland Hardware store, proposed at the site once occupied by the Woodland Park Saddle Club, to move forward.
This approval, which mainly was a technical review, represents the last time the council will review plans for this project. The Woodland Hardware, encompassing a major expansion for their current business, located at Gold Hill Square South Shopping Center. This is one of three future developments spearheaded by DDA. The other two, proposed near the Country Lodge hotel, call for a Family Dollar and O’Reilly Auto Parts stores. Altogether, the DDA-sponsored projects will give the city a projected $189,000 extra a year in sales tax revenue and provide the region with a $4.6 million construction boom
Out of the three, the Woodland Hardware expansion venture, is the most significant since it will become the first building to be constructed inside the Woodland Station development area. The development also may include a few elaborate features, such as a controversial tower design and a variety of new streets and infrastructure. Not so fast Even though this project represents a vastly toned-down version of a one-time $60 million proposal for the Woodland Station areas, it has already sparked concerns from nearby business owners. Several adjacent properties, such as owners of new forthcoming Lush Wine Bar, the Hungry Bear restaurant and other businesses have cried foul over the new proposed building and its impact on their view corridor, parking concerns and their appeal rights. Moreover, they say it’s not right to forgo any more council review regarding this significant of a development. “The council and mayor represent me,” blasted Ron Konieczny, the owner of several buildings in town, including one adjacent to the new hardware store, when addressing the elected leaders last week.“I feel I may get lost in the process. This does affect me.” Already, Konieczny says one major deal for his business property has collapsed due to the new proposed development. Jerry Lowe, the co-owner of the new Lush Wine Bar, says the new development will kill their future business and destroy any views customers would have of Pikes Peak. “This is just not fair to use government money to go against existing businesses,” said Lowe, at a previous hearing in March. “This really hurts our business plans.” Under the process established by the city, critics of the project can no longer voice their concerns before the city council. The elected leaders are now completely out of the decision loop, with the fate of the future building in the hands of the city staff.
City officials will try to reach a compromise between the DDA applicant and the concerned property owners regarding the detailed site plans for the facility, especially when it comes to design features and the height of the building. But once a decision is reached, the impacted business owners and applicant can only appeal this verdict before the city’s Board of Adjustment and then the District Court. “I don’t elect these people,” argued Konieczny, in objecting to the city’s policy. “It’s a matter of constitutional appeal,” replied city attorney Erin Smith, who said the city is not doing anything unusual in how it handles these situations. As a result of this policy, not much comment was aired at last week’s meeting. In fact, Smith stated that in many cities a final plat review is often done administratively. In essence, the final plat review just creates the real estate lot area and makes sure it coincides with the preliminary plans. It doesn’t set the details for how the building looks. Still, Konieczny and Hungry Bear owner Tony Wendt raised red flags about the proposed parking situation in the area. “I am deeply concerned,” complained Wendt, who estimated that with this new development, this section of town will lose close to 50 parking spots at the old Saddle Club parking lot. “This would negatively impact the businesses. It (the new plans) does not address these concerns. It violates the county building code.” Konieczny echoed similar sentiments, and urged the city to address the subject of RV parking in the area.
The parking concerns of the business owners got the attention of several council members, who inquired about the details of how many spaces are being lost. But the city staff reminded the elected leaders that the lost parking spaces would be replaced through street parking, as part of the new proposed road infrastructure in the development. They said the streets would be constructed wide enough to accommodate parking, as part of an effort to create more of a pedestrian feel downtown. At a previous hearing, Planning Director Sally Riley drew comparisons with Tejon Street in the downtown area in Colorado Springs. According to City Manager David Buttery, parking standards for a DDA-associated area are much more relaxed. The council agreed with the staff and admitted they had little control over the current parking lot, since it is now owned by the DDA. Although granting the DDA a final plat approval, Mayor Dave Turley urged the impacted property owners to work with the staff and not to hesitate in taking their case before the Board of Adjustment. “They look at this pretty hard,” said Turley, who once served as a member of this board. The next step involves the staff to okay more detailed building plans for all three new DDA projects, along with the necessary infrastructure, which will be funded by the DDA. The goal is to have all three businesses up and running by the end of the year.