Rapid growth in Colorado Springs drives plenty of disagreement. But all sides at a Wednesday night forum on the topic agreed that the issue is one with maddening complexity.
About 250 people packed inside Studio Bee at the Pikes Peak Center at the event hosted by The Gazette and KKTV to discuss how the city plans to accommodate for its rapidly growing population.
The panel included city leaders, neighborhood organizers, a developer and an anti-growth advocate.
"This is a very tough topic to discuss because there is no right or wrong," said Peter Wysocki who heads city planning efforts. "You need to find a balance."
The panelists faced questions including transportation, affordable housing, water and neighborhood advocacy.
Transportation and water, especially, drew concerned murmurs from the crowd.
"As we look at population growth in our area, over the long term it tends to be relatively smooth," said Dirk Draper, boss of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Organization. "Our investment in infrastructure tends to happen step-wise."
"Our community has been just strapped for resources," Dave Gardner, an anti-growth advocate, retorted. "We've never had the tax revenue to work ahead. We're constantly playing catch up ... we've mis-allocated our resources."
A big concern on the dry Front Range has always been water and as throngs crowd into the Pikes Peak region, with population in town expected to surpass 500,000 — up 75,000 over 10 years — and with another 250,000 in the metro area, the worry is heightened.
Tim Seibert, vice president of Nor'wood Development Group, cited a Colorado Springs Utilities statistic, that said the city has seen a 170% increase in the past 30 years in the number of water taps. However, the consumption per water tap has been cut in half, he said.
"'Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell,'" - Dave Gardner, who was introduced as an anti-growth advocate of Colorado Springs, quotes Edward Abbey at the Community Conversation about the city's boom. @csgazette— Liz Henderson (@GazetteLiz) January 30, 2020
"We should be proud of that," he said. "Do we have a long way to go? Sure we do."
A new study ranked Colorado Springs as the 29th fastest-growing large city in the nation. Austin, TX was ranked No. 1, Denver at No. 5 and Aurora ranked No. 14.
By 2050, Colorado Springs will pull ahead of Denver as the state’s biggest city, and El Paso County will pull ahead of Denver County as the state’s biggest county, according to Cindy DeGroen, the state’s projections demographer.
El Paso County already leads Colorado in population growth, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Since mid-2015, El Paso County has been growing faster than the City and County of Denver, according to data released by the Census.
El Paso, Denver, Adams and Arapahoe counties are the only counties statewide to experience a population increase of more than 20,000 people between 2010 and 2018, State Demography Office data shows.
There was one more thing the panelists agreed upon.
"There's not a pot of gold at the end of the growth rainbow ..." Gardner said. "We need to find a way to activate and engage citizens."
"Show up; stay engaged," added Draper.