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Protect our streamsides for all time

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Protecting stream corridors from dangerous development is an idea whose time has come in Colorado Springs. In a special public meeting on Thursday, June 20 at 6 p.m. in City Hall, the City Planning Commission will consider a forward-thinking Streamside Ordinance and Overlay for our community.

The Streamside Ordinance will restrict land disturbance in a defined area adjacent to the major streams in our community, while encouraging development that is harmonious and compatible with the natural environment in these areas.

Just one year ago, a similar measure failed to receive approval from the Colorado Springs Planning Commission, largely due to lobbying efforts by some in the development community and special interest groups.

Critics often claim that any regulation of streamside property is a "takings" of private property under the United States and Colorado Constitutions. However, this argument now fails to pass the straight face test because this past winter the Colorado Supreme Court upheld a similar streamside classification in La Plata County.

In response to negative feedback received last year, the City Planning staff went back to the drawing board and spent the past year revising the ordinance to minimize its potential economic burden on private-property owners.

City staff removed from the overlay boundaries all water bodies already subject to government regulation due to the presence of the Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse. The planners also reduced the proposed overlay width on narrower streams, in effect decreasing the overall area subject to the ordinance.

In light of these changes and considering the private and public benefits of streamside protection, it's difficult to imagine what objections still remain.

Without these legal restrictions on development, downstream property owners face a greater risk of more frequent and devastating flood damage. The dramatic increase in our population in the past 50 years has forced greater reliance upon trans-basin diversions of water, a trend that has been accompanied by the addition of thousands of acres of paved surfaces in and around our streams.

Taken together, these factors contribute to a tremendous increase in the volume of water runoff in our increasingly paved urban environment. After a severe storm and flood event during the spring of 1999, private landowners and farmers along Fountain Creek lost valuable acreage and cropland due to erosion.

Moreover, the taxpayers were forced to bear the costs of repairing damage to utility corridors, trails and other public resources.

Preserving native vegetation and restricting paving on land adjacent to stream corridors will reduce the potential for further property damage by naturally decreasing flows.

Adoption of the Streamside Ordinance will lessen the risk of future disasters and taxpayer-financed relief efforts by ensuring that inappropriate development does not occur in high-risk areas.

Private-property owners will also benefit from the proposed Streamside Ordinance. It is well known that the condition of stream corridors directly affects property values. Landowners whose properties are subject to the Streamside Ordinance can expect that the value of their lands outside the buffer zone will rise, even to the extent of offsetting any potential loss of value in areas immediately adjacent to streams.

Colorado Springs residents will benefit from the Streamside Ordinance because our stream corridors will be preserved in a natural state for generations to come.

Recreational opportunities abound on property adjacent to streams, and Colorado Springs' trail system is designed to take advantage of these areas. The Pikes Peak Greenway, the Cottonwood Creek Trail, the Sand Creek Trail and the Shooks Run Trail all parallel stream corridors, and the Colorado Springs Open Space Plan seeks to preserve riparian areas.

Finally, the Streamside Ordinance is consistent with the vision for this community expressed in the City's newly revised Comprehensive Plan.

As a regulatory tool, the Streamside Ordinance encourages development that protects and complements the natural character of streams. Flexible standards seek to balance the competing interests of land development and natural resource protection.

Colorado Springs is a wonderful place to live and raise a family in large part due to the natural beauty of the region, and our stream corridors play a vital part in maintaining that natural beauty.

Steve Harris is a founding member of Merrill, Anderson, King & Harris, LLC and a visiting assistant professor of environmental science at Colorado College.

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