by Rick Langenberg:
The showdown over the Woodland Station’s main anchor development has reached a significant legal and political test. Adjacent business owners who aren’t happy about detailed plans for the $2.5 million, 25,000 square-foot Woodland Hardware store project, which once called for a huge tower design and possible view and parking impacts, face a May 29 deadline to officially file a protest.
A board of adjustment hearing has been scheduled for mid-June to possibly resolve these differences. Or, business operators can take their pleas before the District Court. In any case, much is at stake for the city and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), which basically is footing a $500,000-plus bill for infrastructure to make the project work. The DDA, which is incurring about a $1 million more in debt, wants to get the first development project, which also calls for new Family Dollar and O’Reilly Auto Parts stores, constructed by the end of the year to meet their bonding requirements.
Altogether, these three facilities will provide the city with a projected $4.6 million construction boom and $189,000 in extra sales tax revenue a year. But ever since the Woodland Hardware plans were unveiled last March, a group of downtown business operators, located near the site of the former Saddle Club property, have cried foul. They have accused the city of setting different standards for DDA developments and mainly question the process that doesn’t permit the city council to have the final say over the details. And some of these details could cripple their businesses, argue several adjacent property owners. “The mayor and council represent me,” said Ron Konieczny, one of the affected business owners. “This does affect me.” Under the city’s system, site plan reviews are done administratively and elected leaders are out of the decision loop.
According to Woodland Park City Manager David Buttery, negotiations have occurred for several weeks between about five business owners and the DDA. In an interview last week, Buttery expressed optimism that most of the group’s concerns have been mitigated. “The tower is gone,” said Buttery, in describing one of the biggest objections by adjacent business. The staff has made a final recommendation that called for modifications from the original plans. Besides certain design features, Buttery cited the overall view corridor, parking and other related impacts, such as the potential accumulation of ice and shade in this part of town. He said the city has made progress in most of these areas, but contended that not all the business owners are happy. Woodland Park Mayor Dave Turley, who attended one of the meetings, echoed similar sentiments. Parking still remains a tough issue, especially with the loss of nearly 50 parking spaces due to the new development.
The DDA has proposed different parking standards from those of individual business, as part of an effort to create more of a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere, similar in nature to Tejon Street in downtown Colorado Springs. Under this plan, the lost parking spots in the area will be replaced through street parking. This has raised the ire of Tony Wendt, the owner of the Hungry Bear restaurant. In a strongly worded e-mail to Buttery, Wendt referred to the proposed parking arrangement as a good old boy system and requested that the DDA be dismantled. “You (David Buttery) say ‘the city and DDA want to increase business in Woodland Park,’ yet the only things that happen are bringing in competitive businesses or moving a present business to another location,” stated Wendt. “Do you finally see the double standard I have been referring about for years finally? The ‘boys club’ does what they want at the cost of others and others businesses,” stated Wendt. “The DDA is dangerous, and needs to be dissolved. Any quasi-pseudo government entity that violates their own rules, for personal, gain needs an injunction placed on them.” Turley said he sympathizes with Wendt, but agrees with the philosophy of the DDD regarding downtown parking. “That is the way most downtown areas are set up,” said Turley, in regards to emphasizing street parking, rather than having big lots. That said, he wishes local business owners would cooperate better, when it comes to parking issues. He said the problem really hinges on the quality of parking, rather than the quantity of spaces. “When visitors come into town, they want to park right next to the restaurant or business.” said the mayor. Turley conceded that some of these differences may end up in court. And if that occurs, he said the situation shouldn’t be treated any differently, just because the DDA is a key player. “They have to go through the process just like every other applicant,” said the mayor. Buttery said he hopes a court showdown is averted. He reiterated that the city supports the Woodland Hardware project and the modified design.