Wildwood Convenience Center hits snag

7-7wildwood gas station web

Rick Langenberg

City leaders love the idea of a major convenience store and gas station on the east side of the downtown, greeting gamblers and visitors as they enter or exit Cripple Creek.

But unfortunately, it may take an emergency ordinance to assure that the project, proposed by American Gaming, owners of the Wildwood casino, gets built before the end of the year

Last week, plans for the center, which has already received the preliminary green light for a conditional use permit, hit a bump in the road due to technical issues surrounding the vacation of an alley and in addressing some of the concerns of nearby residents. Plus, city leaders found themselves somewhat perplexed by the presentation for the casino group, which displayed plenty of consultant studies and possible scenarios, but didn’t outline too many specific details for their particular project. The council didn’t feel comfortable in advancing the plans for a final site plan.

As a result, the project, located off Hwy. 67, directly across from the Wildwood, was tabled until the July 15 meeting. At that time, the city council will revisit the final site plan and will address a regular ordinance for vacating an alley and in passing emergency actions.

At issue are concerns over relinquishing a city alley in the project area and addressing concerns regarding signage, noise, lighting and access onto Bison, where several nearby residents are located.

The development, expected to operate on a 24/7 basis and to be named the Wildwood General Store, will include eight Phillips 66 gas pumps, a 3,500 square-foot store area and a Duncan Donuts hub, based on preliminary plans. In order for the project to move forward, the development has to obtain a conditional use permit and final site plan that addresses ways it can grapple with impacts for nearby residents. The main hurdle for the Wildwood is that the proposed store location abuts a residential area.

Following a lengthy hearing last week, city leaders expressed optimism about the developers’ ability to address these hurdles. But they were somewhat divided over whether they should implement an emergency law that could move the project forward at a faster speed without going through additional hearings.

Kevin Werner, general manager of the Wildwood, urged city leaders to take the emergency route. Otherwise, he contended that the project may not get completed this year and that a half-built development could pose negative impacts on nearby residents and present safety hazards.

“Is there a way to expedite that?” asked Werner. “We are making a pretty good investment in time and money.” Plus, he warned city leaders that Cripple Creek is extremely weather sensitive from a construction standpoint with a limited window of opportunity. “Any delays create risks and liabilities,” he added.

Werner’s comments got the endorsement of Cripple Creek City Administrator Ray DuBois. “It may be in the best interest to move quickly,” said DuBois.

That said, city officials stated they have to go through certain regulatory processes to make the project legal.

The city council appeared satisfied with how the Wildwood was planning on addressing some of the concerns regarding the project’s potential impacts on nearby residents. But some sought more details, such as designs for the specific signage and a sound barrier wall they plan to construct. “I don’t see a design in what you are implementing,” said resident Lawrence Myers, who lives right next to the proposed store.

Myers didn’t have any problems with the developer’s conceptual plans, but indicated more details have to be presented, including how they plan to address storm water management.

The convenience hub in some ways would replace a former Total Station outlet that was a popular stopping point for gamblers, visitors and residents, prior to the construction of the Wildwood. The town’s only current gas station hub is located on the west side of Cripple Creek off Teller One. This is a somewhat inconvenient spot for many gamblers and visitors, who access Hwy. 67.

Although there has been strong pro-convenience store and gas station sentiment locally, not everyone is thrilled with the project.

During public comment last week, resident Jerry Englehart, a frequent speaker at city meetings, told the council they may want to think twice about approving a big gas station outlet at this location. He cited a number of safety concerns and stated that such an outlet would fit better near the Cripple Creek Heritage Center or in the Gillett Flats area. “There were over 8,000 gas station fires reported to fire departments in 2014. Going back to 1992, there were an average of over 5,000 per year, but for unknown reasons, this number has been trending upward in the past three to four years…These gas station fires cause relatively few casualties, but cost millions in property damage,” stated Englehart.

Englehart said this fear is even more pronounced at a high altitude area like Cripple Creek.

His comments, though, made little impact on the council. In fact, some of these claims became the source of jokes when the main consultant for the project, Clint Darnell, made his presentation. “Did any of them (the gas stations you have proposed and designed) blow up,” quipped Councilman Chris Hazlett.