Woodland Park Growth Pains!

population growth and graph on white background

City Above the Clouds Struggling with Housing

Bob Volpe

The “City Above The Clouds” has had its share of ups and downs throughout its history, but the town that was once basically a tourist destination is now facing growing pains.

A Short History of Woodland Park

Woodland Park was first called Manitou Park when it was founded in 1887 before it was officially incorporated and named Woodland Park in 1891. The name Woodland Park came from the abundance of trees that grew in the area, and spawned a booming lumber industry. The town supplied much of the timber that was used as railroad ties and mine shaft shoring in its early hay day. Five sawmills in and around Woodland Park produced tons of lumber and railroad ties for use in Colorado Springs and other cities and in Colorado’s mines and railroads. It was common to see large stacks of lumber piled throughout the center of town waiting for shipment on the train.

As the town grew and the Midland Railroad made its way up the pass, the town became a haven for tourists who came to enjoy the scenery and the cowboy way of life. During the 1890s when thousands of people migrated to Cripple Creek to join the gold rush, the trains and stagecoaches brought a tremendous amount of commerce through the growing town. Several hotels in Woodland Park accommodated tourists and other travelers. The 15-room Crest Hotel was the first hotel in town. It operated from 1889 until it was torn down in 1910.

Cattle ranching, rodeo, and later dude ranches were also part of the local scene. Pioneer rancher Lewis Spielman and others organized the Woodland Park Rodeo Association around 1920. Events in 1922 included baseball, a parade, a rodeo, and dancing in the pavilion by the lake. The rodeo was discontinued after a few years but started again in the 1940s as the Ute Trail Stampede, which was held for three days every summer. In 1949, the rodeo was moved from the grandstand by the lake in Memorial Park to Bergstrom Arena in the middle of town south of U.S. Hwy. 24. The rodeo eventually ended, and the old Bergstrom Arena and Woodland Park Saddle Club were torn down in 2008.

A Mountain Bedroom Community

Today, Woodland Park is predominantly a bedroom and retirement community. Many of the residents who still work commute daily to jobs in Colorado Springs. However, the high cost and difficulty finding affordable housing has left many who wish to own a home out in the cold.

Housing working families is one of the town’s greatest challenges. In 2014, Trail Ridge apartments was built. The buildings have a total of 168 units. A two bedroom 1,010 square foot now rents for approximately $1,716.

Attempts at constructing multi-family housing have met with some success, but affordable alternative dwellings, such as tiny homes, have faced severe opposition by residents. City council recently approved a multi-family complex across Hwy. 24 from the Trail Ridge apartments. This same development was first proposed as a tiny home development, but was killed when an outpouring of opposition from citizens forced the developer to withdraw the project.

Council also approved a rezoning of a 1.71 acre parcel on Spruce Haven Drive from community commercial to multi-family for the purpose of building an apartment complex.

Perhaps the most controversial development plan to come before the city is the proposed expansion of Charis Bible College’s student housing. Charis has argued that more than 700 Charis students are housed in the Woodland Park area today, but finding adequate, affordable housing near campus has been difficult for some.

At a planning commission meeting last December, a representative of Charis addressed the commission regarding their expansion plans. Charis’ representative from NES Landscape Architects, John Romero, told the commission that total student enrollment would be, “2,000 to 4,000 over the next 20-years,.” Romero stated, “The PUD for housing on the south side of the campus for 300 units is where they would like to start.”

The plan is to construct one dormitory facility housing about 120 students. Eleven student housing lodges, with each housing about 30 students.

When the college was originally approved, Andrew Wommack Ministries (AWM) proposed to do the student housing by an outside contractor, and designate it as a for-profit operation. This would allow for the construction to be taxed. Now, AWM wants to do the construction in-house bypassing the tax.

This issue will be taken up by the city council in mid-July. Last week, the planning commission, in a hearing, didn’t issue any recommendation to the council for the financial impacts of the student housing project, and proposed land use designation change by AWM. The planners did agree to amend slightly the height requirements for the project. At issue, according to some estimates, is a hefty tax waiver (see related story).

Many in the local community are concerned that the huge influx of students into the city will deplete the city’s water supply.

The availability of water is the ultimate decider on a community’s growth. In 2021 the city allocated 72 water taps and ratchets this number down each year. Also, City Council reviews multifamily tap allocations from the multifamily tap bank which are approved sporadically. Based upon the City’s limited water resources, the maximum number of units (single and multifamily) to build-out is 1,100 units, according to city officials.

The city takes a balanced approach to the type of development the city prefers. That is a balance of commercial, multi-family and single family. Multi-family remains the greatest need at this time.

With an average of 40 units per year build-out will be in 2050. This is a very rough estimate because we don’t have a crystal ball looking into the housing market with all its many variables.”