A 7-Eleven store was the single issue on which Flying Horse residents would not budge.
They didn’t like the idea of a 24-hour convenience store so close to their neighborhood park or that it would be on a residential road. It was a plan that didn’t meet their expectations of high-end commercial development.
The Colorado Springs Planning Commission disagreed. It approved a plan that would allow the convenience store. It said the concept plan met all the city code requirements.
Flying Horse residents, on Tuesday, took their case to City Council. After hours of discussion, Power Point presentations and tired eyes, they lost.
“We were all disappointed in the outcome, particularly having a gas station less than 200 feet from a neighborhood park, particularly that it has a children’s park,” said resident David Kunstle. “We feel like the neighborhood laid out the risk for the council members. Those who voted to approve decided that a gas station project was more important and to move forward.”
City Council voted 9-0 to rezone 15 acres from agriculture to planned business development; and voted 5-4 to uphold a concept plan that includes the 7-Eleven store. City Council President Keith King and council members Merv Bennett, Andy Pico, Helen Collins and Jill Gaebler voted to approve the concept plan. The zone change will require a second reading, expected in May.
Flying Horse, a neighborhood whose website describes the homes as lavish, is in the far northeast corner of Colorado Springs. All along, commercial development was part of the development plan. Doug Stimple, CEO of Classic Homes and Flying Horse builder, revealed months ago that it was a 7-Eleven store that wanted that spot, at the northwest corner of Highway 83 and North Gate Boulevard.
True, commercial development came as no surprise to homeowners. They said they could have tolerated a liquor store or a fast food joint. But they drew the line at a convenience store that would be open all day and all night. They produced a list of news articles that reported crimes at area convenience stores.
They talked about traffic and views and worried aloud for the safety of children playing in the park, which would be separated from the commercial property only by a ranch-style fence.
They had said all of this to the Planning Commission during two earlier meetings. Maybe the concept plan meets planning criteria, said resident Sarah Mersnick. But is it appropriate, she asked.
“It would be unprecedented to put a 24-hour convenience store so close to a children’s park,” she said.
Residents circled the wagons around the issue of compatibility. City code says a concept must be compatible with existing and proposed land uses surrounding the site, Kunstle said.
There were a few twists in the case. At first the Planning Commission voted 4-4 on the concept plan, effectively denying the project. The developer appealed to the City Council. But the council sent the project back to the commission instead of holding a public hearing. In the second presentation, the concept plan was approved.
“We expressed our concern that by referring this matter back to the Planning Commission, the City Council was simply giving the developer a second bite at the apple to obtain approval for a concept plan that had already been denied,” Kunstle wrote in an appeal to the council. “That is exactly what happened.”
Planning Commissioner Don Magill told the council that the commission considered the impact the 7-Eleven could have on the neighborhood.
“We did not take this decision lightly,” Magill said. “I had dreams about it.”
John Maynard, land planning consultant and principal for N.E.S, the firm involved in Flying Horse since its inception, said there are examples of convenience stores located next to residential development all over the city.
Councilwoman Jan Martin said that might be true, but none as close to a chidrens’ park. She voted no, along with Val Snider, Don Knight and Joel Miller, on the concept plan.
Currently there are no rules on proximity of convenience stores and parks in the city code, said Larry Larsen, city senior planner. It is something that could be changed.
“But it’s not wise to get into specificity,” he said. “Every case can be so different.”
The next step is for the developer to submit a pre-application on the 7-Eleven project. There is no timeline for completion, Larsen said.
“We will want to make sure it’s a good plan,” he said. “We want all concerns addressed.”