From The Gazette-Colorado Springs Colorado Springs is embarking on two ambitious planning efforts designed to guide and shape growth in the heart of the city for years to come.
If they work - and similar efforts have breathed new life into the urban core of other cities - downtown would evolve into a more pedestrian-friendly center of activity.
Imagine high-density housing, alternative forms of public transportation and a wider mix of offerings, such as grocery stores, high-end restaurants and maybe even a ballpark, an idea that's been tossed around before.
"As those things continue to evolve, the residential (component) becomes more attractive ... so that downtown doesn't clear out at 6 o'clock in the evening or 5 o'clock in the evening and then repopulate on a Friday night," said Ryan Tefertiller, a senior city planner.
"You get more of a consistent, 24-7 presence of activity downtown," he said.
The city is holding a public meeting Tuesday to give residents a chance to weigh in on the two initiatives. A week later, on April 16, the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on both proposals before making a formal recommendation to the City Council.
The two documents have long-term ramifications for downtown.
The first is the Imagine Downtown Master Plan, a blueprint for growth. The second is the so-called Form-Based Code, new development standards and procedures that would replace existing zoning laws. The code provides the tools to implement the master plan.
"The proposed Form-Based Code is written very specifically for an urban area, for high density, for a mix of uses, for tall buildings," Tefertiller said. "It's tailored to get the things that we really want and accomplish the goals that we really need to see downtown."
"It's the biggest trend in the zoning world in a couple of decades," said Bill Spikowski, a founding member of the Form-Based Codes Institute, which trains planners nationwide.
Some cities have already seen positive results.
"Places like West Palm Beach here in Florida have had an amazing downtown renaissance directly attributable to the form-based code they adopted in 1994," Spikowski said.
Tom Murphy, who served as mayor of Pittsburgh from 1994 to 2006, said form-based codes allow developers to build what cities want without jumping through hoops.
"We changed our zoning because ... we have these historic districts with wonderful old row houses, and if somebody wanted to do something, they had to go through all kinds of rigmarole because we required them to have all these setbacks as if it was a suburban house," said Murphy, now a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute.
Form-based codes are an alternative to conventional zoning codes, many of which were developed in the era of suburbanization, Spikowski said.
"When communities take that kind of zoning and apply it to their downtown, I don't know why anybody should be surprised, but it doesn't work," he said.
Tefertiller said the city's existing zoning laws are proscriptive, telling developers what they shouldn't do.
"The Form-Based Code kind of allows more flexibility on the uses but gives more direction, more prescriptive standards, on how a building should sit in relation to a street; that it should have lots of windows on the first level so it's interesting for the pedestrian; and that it should have public improvements like wide sidewalks," he said.