Side Streets: Apartment projects add to Colorado Springs traffic concerns

By Bill Vogrin Updated: December 4, 2013 at 8:30 am • Published: December 4, 2013 | 8:10 am 0

With images of their frantic escape from the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire fresh in their minds, some residents of Rockrimmon are worried that their neighborhood is about to become dangerously congested as one large apartment complex opens and another is proposed.

But officials of the new 260-unit Encore at Rockrimmon apartments on 12 acres along Delmonico Drive, and the proposed Creekside at Rockrimmon project, with 141 apartment units and 62 single-family homes on 24 acres just to the west, say their projects would not unduly add to traffic volumes.

The fears surfaced in neighborhood meetings about the projects.

Neighbor Carol Vogeney wrote me after one of the meetings turned ugly and left her and others unsatisfied with the answers they received.

"It was explosive," Vogeney wrote of the two-hour meeting in October. "Many issues came up: traffic, crime, what to do if we have to evacuate again in the traffic."

She was talking about the bumper-to-bumper traffic jam that occurred June 26, 2012, when the Waldo Canyon fire exploded into the Mountain Shadows neighborhood and prompted the evacuation of about 30,000 residents west of Interstate 25.

At the peak of the evacuation, looping Rockrimmon Boulevard was six lanes of eastbound cars, packed with kids, pets and personal belongings, trying desperately to avoid the inferno to the west. Delmonico was choked with southbound cars.

The streets intersect twice, north and south, and it was gridlock at both.

Both apartment projects are located near the south intersection, which was especially clogged because of the proximity of railroad tracks and an intersection with Mark Dabling Boulevard and I-25.

Now, Vogeney and many folks in the Golden Hills and Tamarron neighborhoods, among others nearby, worry that adding hundreds of apartments will make it even harder to funnel through the intersection of Delmonico and South Rockrimmon Boulevard.

"Can you imagine that intersection?" Vogeney asked.

City planner Lonna Thelen said traffic engineers studied plans submitted by Nor'wood Development Group for Encore and deemed the projected volumes within reasonable limits.

Steve Sharkey, Nor'wood Development vice president, said Encore's apartments would generate less traffic than if the property had been developed into more retail shops, as was originally envisioned and zoned.

"The volume of traffic will be significantly less than a retail environment," Sharkey said, adding that Encore will appeal to "young professionals and emptynesters" who can afford rents ranging from $900 to $1,450 a month.

As Encore prepares to open its first building Dec. 21, Creekside awaits approval of proposed changes to its concept plan in hopes of launching the first phase of its project. It calls for 38 units in six buildings plus a clubhouse on 5 acres west of the intersection.

Creekside needs approval to amend its concept from multi-family to student housing, hoping to cash in on the explosive growth of the nearby University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Thelen said she is awaiting analysis by traffic engineers of the plans for Creekside, submitted by N.E.S. Inc., a Springs planning firm handling the project for Premier Homes of Pueblo.

"We've asked for additional study in response to neighborhood concerns," Thelen said. "We have asked the applicant to resolve questions about geological hazards, drainage and traffic."

John Maynard of N.E.S. Inc., said his client has built similar student housing projects in Pueblo, east of Colorado State University. And a similar project is planned at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.

"There will be a pool, clubhouse, common kitchen and living area," Maynard said. "Each bedroom has its own bath and the units are all furnished with daily trash pickup and 24-hour security patrols."

But Vogeney said many neighbors fear Creekside will actually be home to far more students, who will double-bunk to save money and clog the area with cars.

"The developer insists that college kids have changed and will take good care of their dorm rooms and no one will ever have an extra roommate," she said in disbelief.

Maynard said his client is convinced the project will run smoothly, citing experienced gained in Pueblo. He said he hopes to provide Thelen soon with new traffic projections and calm neighborhood fears.

One change might be the installation of a traffic signal where the project will intersect with Rockrimmon at Tech Center Drive.

Creekside, if approved by Thelen, would need approval of the City Planning Commission and possibly the Colorado Springs City Council if an appeal is filed. Premier hopes to have the first phase open by the 2014 fall semester.

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Read my blog updates at blogs.gazette.com/sidestreets.

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