Changes coming to North Nevada Avenue in Colorado Springs bring excitement, anxiety

By: Conrad Swanson

August 23, 2017 Updated: Today at 7:33 am
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Businesses along North Nevada Avenue are seen through traffic on Tuesday, July 26, 2016. The City of Colorado Springs is beginning the planning phase of a renewal project that aims to revitalize the traffic corridor that stretches from Garden of the Gods Road/Austin Bluffs Parkway south to the Rock Island Trail/Railroad right-of-way. Photo by Ryan Jones, The Gazette.

Nancy Morris agrees with the city’s plans to remake North Nevada and North Cascade avenues even though it could force her and her husband to move out of their home.

Morris, 79, said she and her husband have lived more than 25 years in the Panoramic Mobile Home Court at 120 Winders Drive, nestled between Cascade and Nevada. She’s kept an eye on the city’s plan to revitalize the 2-mile stretch of North Nevada, running from Garden of the Gods Road/Austin Bluffs Parkway, south past Fillmore Street.

“The plan is fine; it’s necessary. We need Nevada improved, but yes, it’s going to affect us,” she said. “They say it could be 10 years, which is fine with us because we’ll probably have to move by then, but it could be tomorrow.”

Alongside Morris, dozens of other people shuffled through the back room of Tile Traders, 3104 N. Nevada Ave., where members of Nina Vetter’s team held an open house for the plan, laying out transportation, zoning and community proposals for the area. Vetter, the project manager, said input from about 900 people went into the plan’s development.

The plan lays out revitalization for the area, which is peppered with warehouses, construction lots, cheap motels and liquor stores. While the plan won’t force any businesses out, it will provide a blueprint for change, should property owners or developers want to invest in the area, Vetter said.

“This is reliant on the private sector and developers really implementing this,” she said. “And we have been contacted by a few people who have heard of it, existing property owners and potential developers, who have seen this process and are already excited by it, which is great momentum.”

The plan, approved by the City Council earlier this year, splits North Nevada Avenue into north, central and south zones, each with varying goals and priorities. The north zone is meant to provide student and faculty housing for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. The central zone would serve as an employment hub, focusing on cybersecurity and support for the university’s medical programs. The south zone will transition the corridor into the Historic Old North End, while still offering local employment opportunities and encouraging the reuse of existing buildings.

Throughout the three zones, hotels, independent retail shops, restaurants, entertainment businesses and multifamily residences will be encouraged.

As a big picture, the master plan offers opportunities, especially related to public transportation and access for those with disabilities, said Courtney Stone, community organizing manager at The Independence Center, a local nonprofit that advocates for disabled people.

“It’s pretty terrible getting around with the sidewalk issues, and getting to the buses is almost impossible,” Stone said. “And Fillmore is pretty terrifying to cross if you’re in a wheelchair.”

But mobile home residents such as Morris could be forced out if property values rise and owners start selling, Stone said. If those residents have to move, they’ll likely have a hard time finding new, affordable housing.

“As that area is being developed, how much responsibility do the developers have to pay back into the community that they may potentially be uprooting?” Stone asked.

Vetter acknowledged gentrification is a concern and said if the mobile home parks’ owners decide to sell their properties, it’s ultimately up to them. But the city isn’t working to force anybody out of the area.

“Redevelopment of the property can only occur if the property owner is willing to sell,” she said.

The plan’s transportation and zoning plans still need council approval, which might come in the months ahead, Vetter said. A dedicated funding source also needs to be found for the work, and the city’s economic development office will soon start drafting incentive ideas to bring developers to the area.

The full master plan can be viewed at www.coloradosprings.gov/renewnnave.