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Embracing big boxes

City supports North Nevada development plan anchored by large chain stores



In late May, Colorado Springs city planner James Mayerl said Kratt Commerical Properties had a hill to climb in earning approval for its big-box development plan for North Nevada Avenue.

"[Kratt developers] need to make some dramatic changes to the current plan, in order to make access more compatible to the Monument Creek trail," he said, adding, "It needs to become more pedestrian-friendly in its layout."

On July 24, City Council unanimously approved Kratt's plan, which all but guarantees that University Village will be anchored by a Costco Wholesale Club and Lowe's Home Improvement. Kohl's and two other major retailers are also anticipated.

So, about those "dramatic changes"?

"Change was seen with small improvements," says Mayerl. "There is more landscape and less concrete in the parking lot."

The final City Council approval for the big-box plan is slated for Aug. 14, and those city leaders are optimistic about the prospective future of long-decaying North Nevada.

"Big-box stores generate enough money in sales tax to pay for the infrastructure of the buildings," says City Councilor Jan Martin.

Sales tax from the development will pay for water and sewage infrastructure, as well as road improvements, for the whole urban-renewal area extending along the west side of Nevada Avenue, from Interstate 25 southward to Austin Bluffs Parkway.

University Village now calls for a 3,500-car parking lot that will serve the three big-box chain stores. It will also feature an array of chain restaurants and banks on its 80 acres. The location is on the west side of North Nevada before the avenue ends at Interstate 25.

In late June, UCCS chancellor Pamela Shockley-Zalabak sent city planners a letter on behalf of the campus supporting the project, noting that university governance groups had discussed it extensively. In the same letter, she recognized that "not everyone on our campus is enthusiastic about the development plan."

Many at UCCS, mindful of the school's growing enrollment, had hoped it could be revamped into a social gathering spot near campus, filled with locally owned shops and restaurants. What the area will get instead, some say, is merely a replica of other suburban shopping districts such as North Academy Boulevard.

"It's a very generic shopping model," says John Harner, associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at UCCS. "The city took no consideration when looking at this plan."

Harner has strongly opposed the big-box-anchored shopping center from its origin. In his eyes, the plan is not at all feasible, as it only addresses economics and not social and environmental aspects. He says small local shops and a layout that takes advantage of Monument Creek Trail, which runs alongside the nearby creek, would be more sustainable in the long run.

There's no set date for groundbreaking on the development, but the retail anchors are planned for completion sometime in late 2008.

The urban-renewal plan for the North Nevada site has been in the works for five years. Martin notes that in that timeframe, no other plan has been brought forth to the city on how to better develop the corridor.

"I wish we could have more of a village-like setting," she says. "In the time that this plan has been in the works, no other plan has come about. This plan is economically sound."

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