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Lofts! Aren't they cool? Of course they are. If you imagine yourself to be a hip young professional, making more money than your poor loser parents ever dreamed of, the kind of person who could make it big in a real city, then you want to live in a loft.

You can see it, can't you? There you are, with your high ceilings, brick walls, exposed mechanicals, and your utterly cool, tastefully minimalist possessions. You like the downtown action, and your commute is a two-block walk to your oh-so-postmodern office.

If female, you're thin, gorgeous, dressed in Prada, and you have your pick of the best guys in town (no oldies or marrieds, thank you very much!). And if male, you're buff, athletic, terrifyingly smart and saturated with eager hotties.

Too bad, isn't it, that we're not like that. Most of us are just regular old schlumps, drifting through life as best we can, forlornly imagining that we're a little bit cool. And we do know one thing: if we can manage to live in a downtown loft, we'll be at least marginally cooler than we are now.

This fact has not escaped the attention of various cold-eyed real estate mavens around town. Live in an apartment or a condo? Kinda sketchy. Live in a loft? Soooo cool!

Suppose you're Classic Homes, and you want to build a giant honkin' steel-frame 10-story high rise apartment building next to Monument Valley Park, and right in the middle of a historic neighborhood.

And suppose that this building -- three feet taller than the Alamo Corporate Center downtown -- is far from being appropriate to the site and the neighborhood. And suppose that the neighbors are, predictably enough, going ballistic over the prospect of having their little slice of heaven invaded by this monster.

So how do you get planners, politicians and assorted downtown boosters to get behind this gobbler? (Answer: Say, 'These aren't apartments! These aren't condos! These are lofts!')

Excuse me, but the proposal has nothing to do with "lofts." Properly speaking, lofts are industrial spaces in late 19th century low-rise buildings, originally used for light manufacturing. There aren't a whole lot of such buildings in Colorado Springs, so we have to build fake ones. That's fine, but calling an apartment building a loft does not make it so.

The vacant site on Monument Street, west of Cascade Avenue once contained gardens and a tennis court for a lovely 19th century mansion. And where's the mansion? Ripped down, along with four neighboring historic buildings, in 1987.

And why were the buildings torn down? Not because they were structurally unsound or unsafe or deteriorated. They were torn down because the owner of the property had managed to get the entire city block rezoned in the late '60s, to R5 High Rise. Yup, right smack in the middle of a settled 19th-century neighborhood -- talk about bizarre and inappropriate!

Nevertheless, now that they've taken charge of the project, the influential development company Classic Homes can't roll into the neighborhood just yet with bulldozers and truckloads of structural steel. They still need an approved development plan, which according to city code must be "harmonious with surrounding land uses and neighborhoods."

Ironically, the city's Downtown Action Plan has a section on the Near North End neighborhood which makes the following recommendation: "... remove all existing High Rise zone overlays which are not currently developed with high rise structures."

Too bad the city, in its usual torpid way, never got around to following the advice of the citizens who created the Downtown Action Plan -- if they'd done so, the neighborhood wouldn't have to fight this particular battle.

But, sadly, change often comes to older neighborhoods despite the best efforts of preservationists, neighbors and sentimental old fools like me. The near north end, like Israel in 1948, is facing a multi-pronged assault from half a dozen powerful foes. The Fine Arts Center plans a substantial expansion, as does Colorado College. Classic Homes wants to build their big mofo, and Young Life has quietly acquired several Victorian houses close to their Cascade Avenue headquarters.

The City, in its eagerness to subsidize/encourage any kind of downtown development, is unlikely to lift a finger to preserve this lovely remnant of old Colorado Springs. But hey, we'll all be so cool, dressed in black with teensy little shades, livin' in our ersatz lofts ...

It's almost like we lived in New York, or Omaha, or someplace really hip.

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com

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