by Pam Zubeck
El Paso County commissioners today "postponed indefinitely"— or in other words killed — a proposal to use county sales tax money to fund a 4.5-mile extension of Powers Boulevard through Copper Ridge shopping center to Interstate 25.
The vote was 4-1, with Commissioner Sallie Clark saying she wanted to deny the proposed agreement outright, not just postpone it. But Commissioner Dennis Hisey said an indefinite postponement, according to Robert's Rules of Order, is a defeat.
It's not like the city will not try to go it alone. Tuesday, Mayor Lionel Rivera wrote a letter to commissioners withdrawing the proposal indefinitely, citing a pending state law that might free up state funds to pay for the Powers extension.
The action likely kills the shopping center, because developers said it was contingent on obtaining tax funding from the city (which already approved it) and the county for the $80 million Powers project.
County Attorney Bill Louis called the proposal "a groundbreaking concept" never before seen, because the county doesn't provide incentives to businesses and has a couple of legal hurdles to get over in order to execute such a plan.
Now, the reasons for the vote:
— State law bars the county from using general fund money on roads and bridges.
— Taxpayer's Bill of Rights bars multi-year agreements. The proposed agreement would have lasted 25 years, although Louis said the agreement itself was conditioned on allocations of tax money yearly.
— A financial analysis showed the developer's earlier research was more optimistic than that of the county-hired consultant, Economic & Planning Systems, Inc., of Denver. EPS said the Copper Ridge deal would result in other shops merely moving to the center, rather than emergence of brand-new shops, costing the county $900,000 annually in sales tax. The county also would be out $1.5 million a year in sales tax money given to the metro district created to issue the debt for the road and build it.
— Budget officer Nicola Sapp said her analysis showed that the county would gain $568,671 in taxes annually by 2020 if Copper Ridge is built, compared to $2.8 million if Copper Ridge isn't built. The latter figure is tied to normal trade area growth and the fact the county wouldn't be sacrificing tax money to build Powers.
— County Assessor Mark Lowderman said commercial property values have plunged. He said his research related to reappraising property last year leads him to believe the commercial, industrial and retail markets are just starting to take a dive that will last longer than anyone likes to think.
"I think there's a bunch of delinquent loans out there that the banks have been reluctant to foreclose on," he said. But given that "there's no real recovery on the horizon," he predicted a "fairly rapid and widespread foreclosure activity" in the commercial sector. Hence, now would not be the time to help a developer cannibalize other businesses in town.
— There was no guarantee the center would have a "destination" anchor store or stores.
— Powers is a state highway, not a city or county road, and the state should pay for it.
— A recent mobility study concluded that by extending Powers to I-25 would improve movement by 100 seconds, Commission Chair Amy Lathen noted. (Lathen asked the group for a motion that would have been a clear-cut denial of the project, but that didn't happen.)
One resident noted to commissioners that Saks Fifth Avenue had closed in Denver. If Denver can't support such stores, what makes Colorado Springs think it can, she wondered.
Lathen said before the vote that she wasn't passing judgment on the developer, Gary Erickson, or development in general.
"I don't oppose development," she said. "I'm a good strong capitalist. However, we have major issues with this project."