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News 5 In Depth: the attraction of walkable communities

walkable downtown Medium.jpeg
Posted at 9:42 PM, Jun 16, 2024

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Communities in Colorado will need to build new places for people to live as our state population grows. In this series on urbanism, we're exploring the ideas and regulations that will shape how our cities look and function in the future.

One trend gaining attention is walkability. It measures how easily a person can access amenities on foot.

In our first report in this series we showed how greenfield development for new neighborhoods pushes a city's boundaries farther away leaving home buyers depended on their cars to meet their daily needs.

Susan Edmondson, President and CEO of the Downtown Partnership, shared how her organization strives to make downtown an attractive area for visitors and residents alike.

"I don't know anyone when they go visit a city that they're not spending time right in the heart of their city that city that they're visiting," she said.

"We have people out seven days a week, cleaning, planting flowers, holiday decor, supplemental security."

Downtown's popularity is growing. Roughly 2,000 new apartment listings are expected to hit the mark in 2024.

"All these new folks moving and living downtown are going to go to our coffee shops that our breweries in our cultural attractions and all these kinds of things which is essential for our small businesses."

Downtown has its own unique zoning code called a Form-Based Code. Edmondson explained the code sets requirements for the form of a building rather than its use. For example, the code may require windows at street level to make walking more interesting and safe.

"It's going to make it much easier to have mixed-use development."

Mixed-use development allows buildings to house shops and restaurants at street level with apartments or condos in the upper stories. This decreases the distance potential customers would need to walk to reach amenities.

The real estate website Redfin created a Walk Score tool for buyers to compare walkability of various cities and neighborhoods. Scores are distributed on a 0 to 100 scale.

The walk score in Stetson Hills, for example, is 19 which is considered car-dependent. Shooks Run, on the other hand, has a walk score of 72 which is considered very walkable. The walk score for Colorado Springs is 35.

Developers around Colorado are investing in new mixed-use developments. One such project that is underway in Pueblo is called Pikes Peak Park.

"It's both a housing and commercial development. So, it'll be mixed-use, mixed-income," explained Ashleigh Winans, CEO of NeighborWorks of Southern Colorado.

The development plan calls for 600 housing units to be built on the 80-acre property. There will be a mix of detached, single-family houses, apartments, and condos. There will also be commercial space, parks, trails, and open space.

"Our goal is a 10-minute neighborhood as far as just being able to walk to amenities and being able to hopefully work and play in the same community that you're living in," said Tamara Pleshek, NeighborWorks Director of Real Estate and Community Development.

Seventy percent of the units will be affordable. Winans said the affordability component extends to purchases as well as rentals.

"If somebody had to qualify for, you know $350,000, that's about where average prices are in Pueblo right now, most people who are at even 120 percent of the Annual Median Income cannot qualify for a mortgage for that amount," Winans said.

NeighborWork's plan to keep mortgages affordable is to use a financing mechanism approved by the Federal Housing and Finance Authority called shared equity.

"We put $100,000 of our own equity into (a property) and we share that equity," Winans explained. "And then when the next buyer buys, when they sell, the equity in the property has grown, and then the next unit is affordable and has shared equity on it."

City leaders are are also working to improve walkability in existing neighborhoods. City Council passed ConnectCOS, the Transportation Master Plan, in 2023. The plan calls for investments in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure in the coming years.

"We recognized that the trail system is just as much a part of the transportation system as our road system," said City Traffic Engineer Todd Frisbie.

The will have a revenue stream to help build those new trails. In 2022, voters extended the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority 1 percent sales tax for a third time. In addition to funding major road and bridge improvements, the tax now includes money for major trails.

"The whole idea of providing alternative transportation modes is to take vehicle trips off the road," Frisbie explained.

As places like downtown become more densely populated, the need to protect pedestrians and cyclists will grow.

Next Sunday we will explore the benefits of increasing density and we'll share how some homeowners are creating income by building accessory dwelling units.

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