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If you want to know how government really works, in its innocently conniving way, go take a look at the city's new Comprehensive Plan (on the city Web site at

This document, which will replace our old, tired, outdated and presumably thoroughly unfashionable Comprehensive Plan, is supposed to make everything all better in our fair city.

As if by magic, traffic will be calmed, historic buildings preserved, sprawl mitigated, developers reined in, and government made efficient.

The city has had a Comprehensive Plan of one kind or another for decades.

The plan is supposed to be a framework, embodying, to a surprising degree of granularity, the city's policy guidelines, principles and goals. As a document, it has a curious similarity to the works of 18th century thinkers like Descartes or Rousseau.

True to the spirit of the Enlightenment, our city philosophers seek to understand the nature of reality, the structure of human societies, the operation of natural law and the underlying principles of human interaction.

The plan seeks to preserve neighborhoods while supporting appropriate solutions to traffic congestion. Historic preservation is important, as is economic growth. Government must be efficient while never neglecting the perceived needs of the citizens. Development must be carefully planned, with due respect for the natural environment; but remember, it's important to have reasonably affordable housing, not to mention commercial and retail facilities.

It is, in short, several dozen pages of reasonably thoughtful, often contradictory advice to policy makers. Petitioners before Council inevitably invoke the Comp Plan when pleading their case; it's easy, because there's something there for everyone. But because the plan does not have the force of law, Council members can interpret it as they please.

That's good and bad. Bad, because each council member's interpretation of the Comp Plan can vary wildly. Good, because it allows policy makers the flexibility to deal with each issue individually, and make decisions accordingly.

Once the latest Comprehensive Plan is adopted, however, that flexibility may be a thing of the past.

That's because the city has proposed creating and enforcing extraordinarily rigid land-use policies, which would govern development for the next two decades. Indeed, the new plan envisions a kind of Portland-in-the-Rockies, a thoughtfully planned community of mixed-use neighborhoods, bikeways, linear parks, urban growth boundaries and vast tracts of open space, the whole anchored by a "vibrant" downtown.

Every current fad is embraced, described and given the force of law -- the "new urbanism," the Springs Community Improvement Plan, infill development, multi-modal transportation corridors (bikes, buses and feet), etc., etc.

It all sounds great until you realize that by codifying and fossilizing today's prejudices, we're just making it harder to solve tomorrow's problems. And interestingly enough, the lofty rhetoric of the new plan scarcely acknowledges the real Colorado Springs -- a car-dependent city of sprawling suburbs, big-box retailers and crowded, cheerful malls.

Anyway, whether we want one or not, the powers that be have decreed that we need a new Comprehensive Plan. The proposal will probably be adopted without much fuss, and virtually without public input except for the official, government-approved SCIP participants.

It's a clever move by those who favor radical expansion of the power of municipal government. Rather than introducing 50 or 60 separate land-use and growth-control ordinances, which might actually alarm the citizenry, you simply bundle 'em all together and call the package a "Comprehensive Plan." And once it passes, the fun begins.

Every one of the hundreds of approved development master plans will have to be massively revised to conform to the new Comp Plan.

For example, if the somnolent owners of the Banning-Lewis ranch (20,000-plus acres on the city's eastern boundary) want to do any actual, like, development, they'd better be ready to write a fat check for a new master plan. My pal Bob the planner, whose L.A. firm would like to bid on the job, says $4.5 million should do it.

But we should be happy anyway. After all, what's a few million when, 20 years hence, our city will be just like Portland, only better. And as for Briargate and Academy Boulevard and the malls, well, they'll just have to disappear.

Regrettably, they no longer conform to the Comprehensive Plan.


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