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SIDE STREETS: Convenience stores trigger neighborhood anxiety

By: BILL VOGRIN
February 1, 2013
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photo - Developers of Flying Horse neighborhood on Colorado Springs' far north edge want to build a 7-Eleven convenience store on the corner of North Gate Boulevard and Roller Coast Road. Neighbors are opposed due to traffic, crime and other concerns. Photo by Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
Developers of Flying Horse neighborhood on Colorado Springs' far north edge want to build a 7-Eleven convenience store on the corner of North Gate Boulevard and Roller Coast Road. Neighbors are opposed due to traffic, crime and other concerns. Photo by Courtesy City of Colorado Springs 

This is the tale of two convenience stores. One story is complete and the other has not played out quite yet. But I was intrigued by the parallels.

A year ago, a hundred or so angry Springs Ranch residents packed a public meeting to try to stop a convenience store from being built in the neighborhood.

They felt betrayed because they believed a YMCA was planned for the vacant 5.6-acre lot. Instead, the YMCA planned to use proceeds from the land sale to finance a new facility elsewhere.

Residents listed fears of increased traffic, crime, loitering, fumes and the proximity to Sand Creek High School in opposing a Kum & Go convenience store and gas station at North Carefree Circle and Peterson Road.

“It was all very dramatic,” said neighbor Lou Morales, who said the Springs Ranch Community Association and its 18 sub-homeowners associations met and strategized and argued on behalf of residents. Some vowed to appeal if they lost. Some actually moved away.

But the effort ultimately failed and Iowa-based Kum & Go won approval in November. I wondered why neighbors calmed down so.

“Kum & Go listened and cooperated with the neighborhood,” Morales said. “They made changes.

“In the end, everybody was resigned that Kum & Go was coming in. Nothing would stop it.”

A few months behind the Kum & Go in the planning pipeline came plans for a 7-Eleven convenience store and gas station on a 15.3-acre lot at Roller Coaster Road and North Gate Boulevard.

Instead of “Oh, thank heaven!” the neighbors in Flying Horse gulped and exclaimed “Oh good Gawd!” and sprang into action.

Leading the opposition is Mark Henkel who said neighbors feel betrayed because they expected boutiques and high-end shops.

“We don’t want a place that has height markers on the inside of the door,” Henkel said, referring to common door markings used by police to determine the height of robbery suspects exiting a store.

Like the folks in Springs Ranch, they organized, raised awareness and turned out en masse for public hearings.

They insisted they were not opposed to commercial development on the lot. Just a convenience store.

“A convenience store is a magnet for crime,” Henkel said, arguing that Colorado Springs is being saturated by convenience stores.

(Personally, I’m amazed how many rental lockers are available in the area. And payday loan places and pawn shops. But that’s just me.)

Other neighbors told the Colorado Springs Planning Commission they were promised a “Broadmoor of the North” type commercial development on the site. Not a 24-hour gas station and Slurpee stop.

Of course, I figured Flying Horse would have about as much luck as Springs Ranch.

Imagine my surprise, shock actually, when the project failed to win planning commission approval. It failed on a 4-4 vote with Commissioner Robert Shonkwiler excused, according to minutes of the November meeting.

It was no surprise when developer Classic Co. appealed to the City Council.

Henkel and the neighbors were prepared to defend their victory. But they were puzzled when the council didn’t even bother to hear the appeal. Instead, the issue was immediately kicked back to planning commission for reconsideration.

“It didn’t seem right that they didn’t even hear the appeal,” Henkel said, noting that council members did not seem informed about the project.

I expect an interesting debate before the Planning Commission on Feb. 21. No doubt many in Flying Horse will be watching.

And, I expect, there will be some interested folks in Springs Ranch, too.

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