Sprawl. An ugly word. Nobody like's sprawl. Not you, the guy down the block, the commuter stuck on Woodmen or the family living out by Falcon. The City Council and developers don't necessarily like it either, but they make money off it, so ...
Open space. Good! Everyone likes to have open spaces near where they live. Who it belongs to doesn't really matter, just so long as we get to use it. The vacant lot next door, the open field two streets down, that big tract next to one of the parks that General Palmer gave us ... great stuff, we need more of it.
Affordable housing. A roof over your head is a necessity. Even those who've not been swept up by our rising prosperity need somewhere to center their existence.
Quality of life. We've got that in spades here at the foot of Pikes Peak.
Where do these disparate ideas converge? Simple -- in Amendment 24 on this November's ballot. Before you vote, consider the two effects of 24 that all sides can agree on -- namely slower growth and infill development.
Amendment 24 will slow growth. Whether it stops it completely or just puts a major league damper on it is a point of debate. In the near term it won't be as noticeable, but in an economy that gets as much gas out of construction as ours does, the effect over a few years will be chilling. Everybody knows somebody whose livelihood is connected to the construction industry. All of those folks' means of making a living will feel the effects of a slowdown. They say that a recession is when the guy next door loses his job; a depression is when you lose yours. Sooner or later, a faltering economy will threaten your job.
Amendment 24 will encourage infill development. Infill is efficient, no doubt. However, infill means that you're filling in those open spaces that everyone agrees are such a nice part of our city. The Houck Estate and recently aquired Big Johnson Reservior would have been infill developments. When some guy builds on the vacant lot next to your house, that's infill. The 40 percent of Colorado Springs total area that Amendment 24's proponents mention as available for infill are all the open spaces in town that everyone takes for granted will stay that way. And we know what happens when an infill development is proposed somewhere. The neighbors freak out. They besiege City Council with cries of "Don't take our open space," "Nobody told me I could eventually live next door to retail," or "The character of our neighborhood will be destroyed if he builds another house on his double lot."
When expansion is stopped, and infill becomes a NIMBY issue, the supply of housing does not grow. When demand (Think folks will stop moving here? Yeah, right!) meets finite supply, prices rise. As prices rise, affordability becomes an even larger issue. Soon, tract homes at $150,000 will look like a deal. If affordable housing is a concern to you, then Amendment 24 should be a big concern.
Part of what makes Colorado a great place to live is the fact that we're not stacked on top of one another. It's one thing to talk about increasing population density to reduce sprawl, but increasing density will also change our city -- more people put in closer proximity to the folks already there. And if another election is not held soon to approve a TOPS 2 bond issue to acquire what's left of infill open space, fewer and fewer open plots of ground will remain in this city.
Don't get me wrong; I like Manhattan. But I do not want to live in a place that resembles it. Increasing density to eliminate sprawl brings its own complications -- complications which need to be thought about before we change our constitution.
Is better and more rigorous planning of growth needed? You bet it is! Can the citizens of Colorado vote for Amendment 24, thinking they've done the right thing, and then forget about further consequences? Not on your life!
Amendment 24 is not about reducing smog, making your commute easier or giving anyone a warm fuzzy feeling. Amendment 24 is about removing options, losing local control and generating an incredible amount of confusion, chaos and legal fees.
If you're concerned with how growth happens, get involved with the processes that already exist. Work to make them better and more reflective of what you want. Don't stuff a stick in the spokes and then think you can just walk away. These ideas are too big to believe that something as simplistic as Amendment 24 is going to work.
Mark Cunningham is a partner and managing broker at West One Group, an investment real estate company in west Colorado Springs.