Drive along West end of Colorado Avenue and you’ll hardly feel in the middle of nowhere: motels, fast-food restaurants, liquor stores, the Red Rocks Shopping Center, anchored by a Safeway.
But this bustling 1.5-mile stretch is known as “no man’s land” — an area divided among multiple jurisdictions and riddled with problems.
In this short stretch of unincorporated El Paso County land, the street has no sidewalks, curbs or gutters, the bridges are narrow and outdated, and zoning and maintenance responsibilities encompass a tangle of governmental jurisdictions.
“Four jurisdictions have their fingers in this area,” said Kathleen Krager, a senior traffic engineer for the city of Colorado Springs. “When you dilute your responsibilities so much, an area like this gets neglected.”
Maintenance of West Colorado Avenue and sidewalks is shared by Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, El Paso County and the Colorado Department of Transportation.
El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark and Colorado Springs City Councilwoman Lisa Czelatdko, who represent the area, have requested funding from the Department of Transportation to study what roadway and infrastructure improvements need to be made in “no man’s land,” and at what cost.
To fund the study, the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments will consider their request for a $325,000 grant, a small portion of which will study improvements to the Rainbow Falls Trail just west of Manitou Springs.
West Colorado Avenue between Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs is the second busiest bus route in the area, according to Clark. It is also the gateway to the two cities for many visitors.
Neglect has left the road in poor condition, and the multi-jurisdictional tangle can be confusing, even when it comes to law enforcement.
Business owners on the south side of West Colorado Avenue are in unincorporated El Paso County and rely on the El Paso County Sheriff for law enforcement, for example, whereas their neighbors on the north side of the street are within the Colorado Springs city limits and call the Colorado Springs Police Department.
Officer Seg Robles of the Gold Hill police station, which covers the area for Colorado Springs, said the zig-zagging county and city lines are treated no differently than borders between states. According to the Manitou Springs Police Department, a deal has been struck with the El Paso County Sheriff’s office, to make responding to calls in the area more efficient.
“We have a mutual aid agreement with the sheriff’s office. If they give us a call and need aid, we go,” said Officer Josh Coen of Manitou Springs.
Robert Maez, who owns the UPS Store at 3105 W. Colorado Ave., says the area is still a perfect community for a small business, except for a problem with vagrants.
In September, 2009, Maez and two other “no man’s land” business owners founded the Avenue Merchants Association, and last year they helped organize a clean-up of several nearby homeless camps. But the non-profit association cannot do much to create sidewalks and storm drains or fix the road conditions in the area. “It’s tough to figure out who’s in charge of the area,” Maez said. “The city certainly isn’t going to put gutters in the county, and the county certainly isn’t going to put sidewalks in the city.”
Randy’s Olde Tyme Barber Shoppe, owned by Randy Leaming, 51, sits in the city of Colorado Springs. Leaming’s neighbor, just across the street, is in El Paso County. Taco Bell and McDonalds, next to each other down the street, are in the same situation: Taco Bell is in unincorporated El Paso County and McDonald’s is in the city of Colorado Springs.
In the Garden of the Gods Campground, northwest of West Colorado Avenue and Columbia Road, the Manitou Springs police are responsible for “three or four cabins,” according to Coen. The rest of the cabins are in Colorado Springs .
The jurisdictional mess could be cleaned up by a petition to the city of Colorado Springs requesting that the unincorporated area of El Paso County be annexed into the city. But this effort has to come from the residents and local business owners who, according to Clark, might not see annexation as the best option.
“I will tell you that a lot of the folks that live over there don’t want to be in the city,” Clark said. Businesses might also want to avoid annexation because of a higher sales tax that comes with being in the city.
The other option, Clark said, is an unlikely one: the city of Colorado Springs could use eminent domain to annex the area. Instead, Clark said she hopes that, after the proposed study is completed, the city will annex at least West Colorado Avenue, the roadway.
Leaming, who has owned his barber shop for seven years, doesn’t seem perturbed by the tangle of county and city lines. But it would be nice to have sidewalks on both sides of the street and anything else that would clean the area, he said.
Clark hopes the study, which is scheduled to begin in March, 2012 , would take into account the opinions of locals, along with the advice of engineers and planners. The greatest unknown is the cost of any improvements to the area. Andre Brackin, an engineer for the El Paso County Department of Transportation who is advising Clark, estimated that the amount to cover the cost of improvements to sidewalks, gutters, traffic lights and bridges would be at least $10 million.