Colorado Springs’ PlanCOS Isn’t Just ‘Sitting On A Shelf,’ It’s A Plan In Motion

August 25, 2020
Development in downtown Colorado Springs has been a focus for the planning department.Development in downtown Colorado Springs has been a focus for the planning department.Photo Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
Development in downtown Colorado Springs has been a focus for the planning department.

The city of Colorado Springs has released a report on the progress of its master plan known as PlanCOS. It focuses on six key initiatives: vibrant neighborhoods, unique places, a thriving economy, strong connections, renowned culture and majestic landscapes.

KRCC's Abigail Beckman spoke with Hannah Van Nimwegen, the senior comprehensive planner with the city.


Interview Highlights

On the most noticeable piece of progress identified in the report

"Those six key initiatives all saw movement in 2019. Those are large projects. We have ReToolCOS which is the rewrite of the zoning code; HomeCOS which is the attainable and affordable housing plan; and SmartCOS, which is the Smart Cities initiative. This annual report [really says] 'Hey, PlanCOS is not just sitting on the shelf. We are actually doing this and we are moving forward with the recommendations that were made in the plan that came out of public input.' "

On what makes the approach to PlanCOS different

"Comprehensive plans always have some level of public input, but I would say that the PlanCOS efforts took it a step beyond what is standard or what is normal.

"Input included: 

  • 90 co-creators (individuals who have a stake in the creation of the plan)
  • 274 outreach meetings. 
  • 9,000 participants throughout the entire process
  • 5,146 survey responses.

"For a city of our size, that's a good chunk. There are a lot of cities who are much larger than us that don't have as successful of a public outreach process as our plan did. We really harness that enthusiasm. I think a lot of Colorado Springs residents were hoping for this opportunity to be a part of their community and be a part of how it grows and how it develops."

On keeping up enthusiasm from the community during the pandemic

"Setting up the virtual environment for public outreach has definitely been a learning process. We all had to figure it out very quickly, but the plan going forward has always been to maintain public outreach and keep that enthusiasm up. The best way to do that is to keep people engaged. You can't let something sit on the shelf and not talk about it and [have] people remain interested. That's just not how it works. As we're moving forward with these initiatives, we have had to step a couple of months back with some of these projects, to figure out what that virtual environment looks like, how we're going to engage with the public virtually and make sure that it is fully accessible to all individuals that we are hoping to reach."

On potential effects from the pandemic on the goals of PlanCOS

"I don't think that there will be any effect on those main initiatives. Those have been identified as being of very high importance to complete to make sure that private investment keeps going up. ConnectCOS is an excellent example. Instead of in-person outreach meetings, they had to step back and say, 'OK, how are we gonna do this virtually, [something that] would have been a 100- person neighborhood meeting, maybe?'

"It's the same thing with the neighborhood planning program. We can't really plan a neighborhood without talking to the people in the neighborhood. That's still being worked on, but we are still plugging right on ahead. We are not pausing until this is over."

On new projects in southeast Colorado Springs

"The southeast part of the city has been a priority area for the planning department specifically for a while. We highlighted it in the 2019 PlanCOS report because there has been so much movement and a lot of that movement has been grassroots investment. The southeast community hub is going to be a game-changer for the Mission Trace Shopping Center, which has been a vacant shopping center and in the public eye quite a bit in the last few years. 

"On top of these grassroots investments, the Economic Development Division specifically has been working to set up initiatives to help support those individuals as well. I think in the next few months we'll definitely be seeing a lot of new development in the southeast area."

On the city's strategy to fill in vacant properties, as well as grow current boundaries

"Change and development is happening everywhere. We're seeing a lot happening on the north and east side of town. A lot is happening downtown and in southeast Colorado Springs. A lot of that northside development had been master-planned for 20 or so years and is just now being constructed, so there's a perception that things must be booming up there, but people have been planning for that development for quite some time.

"PlanCOS really supports infill. Vacant acres in the main city boundary are hard to come by, to be totally honest. This lends itself to a lot of adaptive reuse of existing structures and making sure that those vacant properties that do exist are being planned for their highest and best use."

On how the report and planning process is moving forward

"The 2019 annual report establishes a baseline. We're looking at those key indicators and those data sets and in the next few years, we'll be able to tell if our goals, policies and regulations are actually working. Cities frequently adopt plans and it's done. They never really look at it again. But here we're actually talking about possible amendments if something's not working, if something's not looking like we think it should.

"2025 will be the key year where we look at whether any major points need to change, but we'll still be looking at minor changes that may be necessary over the next few years."