2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Mill Street blues no more as neighborhood blossoms

    Sat, August 24, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    JoAnne Ziegler is one of the driving forces behind the Mill Street Neighborhood's community garden. She said its been a great way to stay connected to her neighbors in the working class area south of downtown near the Drake Power Plant. She hopes Colorado Springs Mayor Bach, the City Council and El Paso County Commission will join neighbors Saturday at a block party and view their success.

    JoAnne Ziegler is one of the driving forces behind the Mill Street Neighborhood’s community garden. She said its been a great way to stay connected to her neighbors in the working class area south of downtown near the Drake Power Plant. She hopes Colorado Springs Mayor Bach, the City Council and El Paso County Commission will join neighbors Saturday at a block party and view their success.

    JoAnne Ziegler fell in love with the Mill Street neighborhood when she was looking for a home 18 years ago.

    She didn’t mind that the working-class neighborhood south of downtown was gritty — a place with a little dirt under its fingernails no doubt from a life in the shadow of the Drake Power Plant.

    New streets, sewers, sidewalks, curbs and gutters are on display at the new Mill Street neighborhood community garden.

    New streets, sewers, sidewalks, curbs and gutters are on display at the new Mill Street neighborhood community garden.

    She didn’t mind the 150 or so houses were old and the streets worn. And she didn’t mind dodging coal trains that rumble through day and night, disrupting traffic and sleep for some.

    “I just fell in love with it,” JoAnne said. “It was such a nice little neighborhood.”

    But she and her neighbors did mind quite a bit when, in 1999, the city proposed building a $6 million center to consolidate all services to the community’s homeless.

     About the same time, Colorado Springs Utilities announced it would build a 500-foot-long railroad spur and store coal cars along Mill Street.

     Residents were outraged and channeled their anger into action. They organized, fought the shelter and actually won. The rail spur was built but its design was modified to remove fewer homes. It even helped by clearing 1.5 acres which was returned to the neighborhood and used to build affordable housing.

    JoAnne Ziegler is one of the driving forces behind the Mill Street Neighborhood's community garden. She said its been a great way to stay connected to her neighbors in the working class area south of downtown near the Drake Power Plant. She hopes Colorado Springs Mayor Bach, the City Council and El Paso County Commission will join neighbors Saturday at a block party and view their success.

    JoAnne Ziegler is one of the driving forces behind the Mill Street Neighborhood’s community garden. She said its been a great way to stay connected to her neighbors in the working class area south of downtown near the Drake Power Plant. She hopes Colorado Springs Mayor Bach, the City Council and El Paso County Commission will join neighbors Saturday at a block party and view their success.


    Now, JoAnne and her neighbors are inviting the city back to Mill Street.

    “We want to show them everything we have accomplished,” she said. “We’ve been working hard in our neighborhood to bring it back to life.”

    They want folks in power to come see new streets built to replace century-old gravel, thanks to its designation as a neighborhood strategy area deserving of federal block grants.

    Those new streets also have new street lights. Missing sidewalks are being installed. And 17 or so new homes have been built by Habitat for Humanity and other good folks on the vacant land.

    “It’s been a long process but the neighborhood is looking great,” JoAnne said.

    She is especially proud of Mill Street’s new community garden. It’s the product of another goodwill gesture from Springs Utilities. The garden sits on a deep, wide lot on Cascade Avenue where a chronic drainage problem led Utilities to acquire the house and bulldoze the home. After clearing red tape and getting permits and handling fees, the lot was made available to the neighborhood for a garden.

    Mill Street Flash 3Garden guru Larry Stebbins and his Pikes Peak Urban Gardens developed a plan and arranged for grants and last fall 106 raised beds were built. Eight irrigation pumps were installed to provide watering. A tool shed and greenhouse were built and even a picnic table was added.

    “The garden just looks great,” JoAnne said.

    In fact, they’ve specifically invited Mayor Bach as well as the members of the City Council and the El Paso County Commission to their annual block party on Saturday to see for themselves.

    I wondered if the talk of removing Drake and building a downtown ballpark was making folks nervous that Mill Street in the crosshairs again.

    “I’ve thought about it, sure” JoAnne said. “We want them to see how far we’ve come. It shows if you give somebody half a chance, we can do it.”

    Actually, everyone ought to visit Mill Street. It’s a great example of what folks can do with they pull together and work for positive change.

    “It’s the best neighborhood,” JoAnne said. “I wouldn’t live anywhere else in the city.”

    082413 Side Streets 3——————-


    Mon, April 8, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Tom Fendon

    Tom Fendon

    Tom Fendon fears he and his neighbors in the Dublin Terrace Townhomes are trapped in a “worst-case scenario.”

    You may know this complex as the “Too Tall Townhomes.” It’s the place near Dublin and Powers boulevards with 15 completed buildings housing 56 units plus three unfinished buildings that ignited a controversy last May.

    That’s when the city discovered the developer had deviated dramatically from approved plans and built structures that were too big and on a grade too high.

    Fendon became despondent after a decision March 26 by the City Council to deny a variance that would have allowed the townhomes to remain, as is.

    “A worst-case scenario is going to come to fruition here,” Fendon said. “They are going to just wash their hands and it will sit as it is for eternity.”

    Fueling Fendon’s fear is the fact that the developer Todays Homes and its parent company, Unity Builders Group of Calgary, Canada, abruptly declared bankruptcy after the city ordered the too-talls removed.

    The three "too tall" townhome buildings dwarf the single-family homes across the fence.

    The three “too tall” townhome buildings dwarf the single-family homes across the fence.

    And Fendon knows the Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank, which now owns the too-talls, has threatened to simply walk away and let the buildings rot if the variance was denied. It maintains the cost of moving the buildings — two are move-in ready and even furnished — is too steep to justify.

    Fendon blames the owners of single-family homes dwarfed by the three too-tall townhomes.

    While he’s sympathetic, Fendon said the owners are being unreasonable. Their refusal to compromise, he said, is dooming his property values and his hopes of ever selling his townhome.

    “They are never going to give up,” Fendon said. “They want them torn down. Nobody is going to take on the expense of doing that. We’re all going to suffer.”

    In fact, an El Paso County assessor visited the complex recently and told Fendon his property value will be lowered due to the three vacant buildings and the uncertainty of their fate.

    “They will definitely bring down our values,” he said.

    Side by Side DrawingsWhat happens next is a bit of a mystery.

    The too-talls are under control of a court-appointed bankruptcy receiver, Andrew Checkley of MLP Receiverships in St. Louis. He has 30 days to appeal the council’s decision to District Court. He declined to comment when I reached him Friday.

    Peter Wysocki, city planning director, said his agency will demand action by the receiver and bank soon.

    “These buildings need to be abated somehow,” he said. “Whether they can be moved, deconstructed or demolished — those are the only three options. They need to come up with a plan.”

    Why do I get the feeling that Fendon is right to be scared that this mess will be with us for a long time to come?

    Dublin Terrace Aerial 2012

    The three too-tall townhome buildings are visible in the top, center of the photo.




    Thu, March 7, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Can we talk? Just us neighbors?

    Maybe to organize to fight a commercial development on vacant land.

    Or to get City Hall to listen to our concerns about traffic.

    Or to preserve the character of our unique neighborhood.

    Some on the Colorado Springs City Council and the Planning Commission say no. You can’t talk. They won’t grant you permission to talk.

    Dave Munger in 2011

    Dave Munger in 2011

    No kidding. I heard it myself.

    The idea that some in Colorado Springs government would dismiss groups of neighbors who organize informally and approach their elected leaders is troubling to the city’s top neighborhood activist, Dave Munger, president of the Council of Neighbors & Organizations.

    Munger was puzzled the first time it happened in January when the Planning Commission rejected a request by the Rawles Open Space Neighborhood to initiate a city-sponsored conversation about creating a master plan for 38 large properties along Mesa Road on the city’s west side.

    The commission voted 6-3 to deny neighbors the right to talk, demanding the group get agreement from 100 percent of the property owners before having a conversation. It didn’t matter the city code doesn’t require unanimous agreement before a master plan conversation can begin.

    Then similar comments were made last week during the City Council meeting. (You can watch the three-hour City Council debate at this link. Selected Item 14 for viewing.)

    The Rawles neighborhood leaders presented signatures of 26 homeowners who all want to discuss a master plan. It was not 100 percent but it was near 75 percent agreement.

    Janet Suthers

    Janet Suthers

    (Janet Suthers, the commission chairwoman, told the City Council during its hearing that her panel really only wanted two-thirds agreement, even though it repeatedly insisted on unanimous agreement.)

    Suthers and commission member Don Magill tried to explain to the council that the issue wasn’t about basic democracy and the right to congregate and self-govern, as Munger had tried to argue.

    Suthers and Magill said the issue was property rights. And a simple conversation about a master plan, which would declare the neighborhood’s desires to preserve a rural character and open development style, was too dangerous to allow.

    Don Magill

    Don Magill

    That attitude won agreement from three on City Council, including Angela Dougan who wanted to know who had elected the 26 Rawles neighbors to speak for all 38 property owners.

    “You have no documentation,” Dougan told Rawles spokesman James Kin. Dougan then tried to discredit Kin and his group by suggesting they were no more legitimate than if she and Councilman Merv Bennett went to a hotel and represented themselves as a married couple.

    Nervous laughter erupted on the council. But Munger wasn’t laughing at efforts to knock down the Rawles group because he passionately believes neighborhood groups, no matter how informally organized, ought to be respected and encouraged to get together and talk.

    “Democracy ought to be the over-arching goal here,” Munger said. “We ought to be empowering people to have a voice over their own lives.

    “If we’re not willing to give people the voice they deserve, we need to rethink our priorities.”

    Of course, Munger was buoyed by the final City Council vote, 5-3, to allow the master plan process to begin. And he said he would never advocate letting a majority of neighbors trample the property rights of the minority. Nor would city staff, the commission or council, all of whom must approve any master plan before it is enacted, Munger said.

    “There will be lots of opportunities for us to defend those who don’t agree with the majority,” Munger said. “Our history as a city is pretty clear. We’ve always encouraged neighborhoods to have conversations and speak for themselves and decide what their neighborhood ought to look like.

    “I’m not sure why anyone would oppose the idea of a conversation.”




    Mon, February 4, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with 6 comments


    This is the tale of two convenience stores. One story is complete and the other has not played out quite yet. But I was intrigued by the parallels.

    A year ago, a hundred or so angry Springs Ranch residents packed a public meeting to try to stop a convenience store from being built in the neighborhood.

    They felt betrayed because they believed a YMCA was planned for the vacant 5.6-acre lot. Instead, the YMCA planned to use proceeds from the land sale to finance a new facility elsewhere.

    Residents listed fears of increased traffic, crime, loitering, fumes and the proximity to Sand Creek High School in opposing a Kum & Go convenience store and gas station at North Carefree Circle and Peterson Road.

    “It was all very dramatic,” said neighbor Lou Morales, who said the Springs Ranch Community Association and its 18 sub-homeowners associations met and strategized and argued on behalf of residents. Some vowed to appeal if they lost. Some actually moved away.

    But the effort ultimately failed and Iowa-based Kum & Go won approval in November. I wondered why neighbors calmed down so.

    “Kum & Go listened and cooperated with the neighborhood,” Morales said. “They made changes.

    “In the end, everybody was resigned that Kum & Go was coming in. Nothing would stop it.”

    A few months behind the Kum & Go in the planning pipeline came plans for a 7-Eleven convenience store and gas station on a 15.3-acre lot at Roller Coaster Road and North Gate Boulevard.

    Instead of “Oh, thank heaven!” the neighbors in Flying Horse gulped and exclaimed “Oh good Gawd!” and sprang into action.

    Leading the opposition is Mark Henkel who said neighbors feel betrayed because they expected boutiques and high-end shops.

    “We don’t want a place that has height markers on the inside of the door,” Henkel said, referring to common door markings used by police to determine the height of robbery suspects exiting a store.

    Like the folks in Springs Ranch, they organized, raised awareness and turned out en masse for public hearings.

    They insisted they were not opposed to commercial development on the lot. Just a convenience store.

    “A convenience store is a magnet for crime,” Henkel said, arguing that Colorado Springs is being saturated by convenience stores.

    (Personally, I’m amazed how many rental lockers are available in the area. And payday loan places and pawn shops. But that’s just me.)

    Other neighbors told the Colorado Springs Planning Commission they were promised a “Broadmoor of the North” type commercial development on the site. Not a 24-hour gas station and Slurpee stop.

    Of course, I figured Flying Horse would have about as much luck as Springs Ranch.

    Imagine my surprise, shock actually, when the project failed to win planning commission approval. It failed on a 4-4 vote with Commissioner Robert Shonkwiler excused, according to minutes of the November meeting.

    It was no surprise when developer Classic Co. appealed to the City Council.

    Henkel and the neighbors were prepared to defend their victory. But they were puzzled when the council didn’t even bother to hear the appeal. Instead, the issue was immediately kicked back to planning commission for reconsideration.

    “It didn’t seem right that they didn’t even hear the appeal,” Henkel said, noting that council members did not seem informed about the project.

    I expect an interesting debate before the Planning Commission on Feb. 21. No doubt many in Flying Horse will be watching.

    And, I expect, there will be some interested folks in Springs Ranch, too.



    Wed, July 4, 2012 by Bill Vogrin with 2 comments

    "A City Beautiful Dream - The 1912 Vision for Colorado Springs" is the latest in a series of regional history books published by the Pikes Peak Library District

    As Colorado Springs studies loosening the reins on developers by expediting the process for getting their plans approved, I thought I’d look at how the planning process evolved.

    Funny thing. The planning department overhaul comes  on the 100th anniversary of the City Council’s adoption of its first formal plan for the future development.

    In fact, the Pikes Peak Library District has published a book: “A City Beautiful Dream – The 1912 Vision for Colorado Springs.”

    It’s the 10th book in the library’s fascinating regional history series. (It’s $14.95 and available at the library, the Pioneers Museum and ClausenBooks.com.)

    The project started — doesn’t every government effort — with a consultant hired by the City Council in late 1911 for $2,000 to evaluate the city’s design.

    Charles Mulford Robinson, photo courtesy Pikes Peak Library District

    At the time, Charles Mulford Robinson had established a reputation for designing modern cities. So he got the job.

    Tim Scanlon, a former Springs city planner who now consults with Shooks Run Research, described  Robinson as being ahead of his peers in envisioning how cities might be built.

    “Robinson advanced the practice of comprehensive planning . . . that continues today,” Scanlon wrote in an introduction to the book.

    Though Robinson plan never was fully implemented, several of his recommendations are evident today, said Tim Blevins, the library’s special collections manager who coordinated publication of the book.

    This 1904 map of Colorado Springs shows the downtown grid consultant Charles Mulford Robinson detested as well as the railroad lines he blamed for polluting the air and inhibiting movement due to their poor location and at-grade street crossings.

    “We use the plan quite a bit in special collections to answer reference questions,” Blevins said.

    Robinson observed the strengths and weaknesses of Colorado Springs, based on research he conducted 1905-1911 for two separate reports that were the basis of his 1912 report: “A General Plan for the Improvement of Colorado Springs.”

    Issued three years after the death of founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, Robinson’s plan was critical of some of Palmer’s key design features: the wide streets and downtown grid.

    Robinson said the Springs should design its streets to enhance its railroad stations, hotels and parks as its three obvious “focal points in the life and activity of the community.”

    But he said Palmer’s “tiresome” grid did nothing to enhance community, calling it “as commonplace as Philadelphia’s or Chicago’s.”

    He advocated disrupting the unimaginative grid by varying the widths of streets.

    Wide roads would be thoroughfares while more narrow roads would discourage horses and buggies and become quiet residential streets.

    His plan forcefully advocated building parks and playground and ridding the city of air pollution by imagining electric trains instead of smoky steam engines.

    Consultant Charles Mulford Robinson urged the City Council to rid Monument Creek of those "wretched shacks" as seen in this photo looking south from the Bijou Street bridge. Photo courtesy the Pikes Peak Library District.

    He advocated a height limit on buildings downtown and ridding the city of at-grade railroad crossings.

    Wonder what he’d think of the city today and efforts to muzzle city planners? Hmm.

    Eliminating the Sante Fe Station, top, on East Pikes Peak Avenue, was one of consultant Charles Mulford Robinson's recommendations. It took a route through the east side of Colorado Springs, spreading smoke and causing too many transportation delays with its numerous at-grade street crossings. Robinson urged turning the Denver & Rio Grande station, bottom, into a "union station" and consolidating all train travel in it.




    Sun, June 26, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Steve Wenzel, left, and Ruth Pedrie dance "The Twist" Wednesday, June 23, 2010 during the Street Breakfast on Pikes Peak Avenue in downtown Colorado Springs. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

    Until 2008, neighborhood block parties were such a priority in Colorado Springs that the parks department had a program and coordinator to facilitate two dozen or so requests received each year.

    It was based on the idea that neighborhoods function better — they are safer and problems get solved at a one-on-one level more easily — if folks get to know each other.

    Make friends over a burger and a beer, maybe even dance in the street,  and you are more likely to watch out of suspicious activity across the street.

    And you are less likely to call cops when the music is too loud. (You’ll probably walk over and ask them to turn it down. Or you will be at the party and enjoy the music!)

    Today, that concept is known as a “community building.”

    Anyway, the city valued and encouraged you to make friends with your neighbors. And your life was enriched.

    It fell smack under the city’s motto: “We Create Community.”

    But in 2008 the budget ax fell and the parks department staff was slashed.  It could no longer afford a block party program and coordinator to process permit applications, collect the $25 fee, underwrite the insurance for street parties, alert emergency agencies of closures, schedule delivery and removal of barricades and subsidize the cost of these activities.

    Those duties have fallen to the police department. The process is no longer a simple one.

    Neighborhoods are complaining about demands for a dozen pages of information, names and phone numbers, traffic studies, insurance policies and unreasonable advance notice.

    So many have stopped asking permission and started holding rogue parties.

    They put out trash cans and lawn chairs to block their streets and eat, drink and dance. No permits. No fees. No ridiculous red tape.

    But no coordination with emergency services, either.

    The police recognize this is a problem and recently asked the City Council to adopt a new ordinance defining how parties should be handled.

    The ensuing discussion offered an interesting glimpse of our new council.

    Bernie Herpin, Jan Martin, Brandy Williams and Lisa Czelatdko want to encourage block parties.

    “To me, it’s a matter of informing the city that we would like to have a block party,” Herpin said. “Here’s the time, date and location. I’d rather see this an an informal thing, not asking permission. I think it got blown out of proportion.”

    How Colorado Springs City Councilwoman Angela Dougan would handle street partiers

    Then there’s Councilwoman Angela Dougan, who says city streets are for cars only.

    “I’d rather see an ordinance that we do not allow blocking off our streets,” she said. “If you do, we treat it like blocking a fire hydrant, we might just put a hose right through your car because it wasn’t supposed to be there.”

    And call out the Gestapo?

    Anyway, the council told police to rethink its ordinance and, more importantly, meet with the Council of Neighbors & Organizations to get input for the folks actually trying to build community. What a concept!

    Just maybe, before the summer block-party-season is over, neighborhoods will finally know whether they can legally eat, drink and dance in the streets.



    Wed, April 27, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with no comments


    Josie Trujillo at the window of her house in Cragmor. The swimming pool, once filled with mud, cattails, weeds and trees, now only holds a little dirty water from the winter.

    Josie Trujillo is no slumlord who accumulates properties for rent and neglects them. 

    She is not like some who simply are content to let her property sit and rot and the neighbors be damned. 

    Josie is someone whose life spun out of control and her house in Cragmor suffered. Along with her neighbors. 

    But now, 12 years later, the house is improving even if Josie is still struggling. 

    Here’s how it appeared in the July 18, 2002, edition of The Gazette when it was featured in the first Side Streets and came to symbolize blight in Colorado Springs


    Here’s how the house looks today. 

    Neighbors are much happier to see a freshly painted house with new windows and neat landscaping. 

    Josie Trujillo's house as it appeared April 27, 2011.

    I’m glad to be able to report the progress Josie has made on the house. 

    But her story is so sad and she has a long way to go before she’s able to live in the place again. 

    Her first goal is to complete the exterior. 

    The eaves along the back and over a small rear deck still must be repaired. 

    Then she can pull permits from the city and start concentrating on the interior. 

    It will be a huge chore. 

    The inside is bare studs and plywood. She has insulation in about half the house. But the amount of work needed is staggering. 

    Electrical wiring. Plumbing. A furnace. Water heater. 

    Her needs are great. 

    But she’s determined to get it done, even if it takes many more years. 

    The repairs Josie Trujillo has made on her house can be seen. She is working her way around the place. Only a small deck on the rear, remains to be fixed before the exterior is finished.

    Here's a closer look at the deck. A new sliding glass door has been installed. Next, the eaves, ceiling and siding will be replaced.


    Josie Trujillo walks through the remains of her living room.

    Her house was featured in the first Side Streets on July 18, 2002, along with the Joseph O’Brien house on the west side, which has been condemned since 1973.

    Neighbor frustration with similarly blighted houses led the Colorado Springs Code Enforcement office to campaign for an ordinance to combat blight.

    The O’Brien house became “exhibit A” for neglect when the City Council adopted a blight ordinance in 2006. Josie’s neighbors also testified on behalf of the ordinance.

    Here’s a look at that very first Side Streets on July 18, 2002:



    Wed, April 6, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with 3 comments

    Colorado Springs City Council District Map/courtesy Colorado Springs

    For years, the Colorado Springs City Council has included four representatives elected from specific districts and four members elected at-large or on a citywide basis.

    Voters on Tuesday decided add two new districts to the map. When the change takes effect in 2013, the nine-member council will feature six district representatives and just three at-large representatives.

    Experts say the change is a victory for neighborhoods. By anchoring councilmembers to specific districts, it ensures accountability.

    And be creating more districts, each representative has fewer constituents. That gives folks greater access to their individual council representative.

    Some warn the change could lead to more parochial fights on the Council. Representatives of older, established neighborhoods, for example, might find themselves pitted against newer, faster growing suburan neighborhoods with different infrastructure needs.

    Some are especially excited because the change creates the potential for the city’s first “majority minority” district — a place where Hispanics, blacks and other minority residents outnumber whites.

    Prior to the 2013 vote, the map above will be redrawn to carve out the new districts. The racially diverse south and southeast areas of the city could find themselves with their own seat on council.

    “Symbolically, it would be quite significant,” said Josh Dunn, a political science professor at the University of Colorado’s campus here. “It would be a positive development if it creates a sense the council really is more representative of all peoples’ interests.”

    Here’s a story the Gazette’s excellent political reporter Daniel Chacon wrote prior to the election.



    Sun, March 13, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    This concrete trash bin at the Colorado Department of Transportation maintenance yard on Commercial Boulevard near I-25 and South Circle Drive holds dozens of campaign signs found illegally planted along state highways.

    Campaign signs, large and small, along with assorted business signs fill a concrete bin at the Colorado Department of Transportation maintenance yard.

    Ever wonder where political campaign signs go to die?  

    If they get placed illegally along state highways in the Colorado Springs region, the concrete trash bin in the maintenance yard of the Colorado Department of Transportation is their final resting place.  


    Lots of signs — large and small – find their way in to the bin.  

    Actually, it’s kind of a relief to know it is not political dirty tricksters taking hundreds of signs reported lost by various candidates for mayor and City Council.  

    The folks at CDOT say they hold the signs for 30 days to give the owners a chance to reclaim them. The signs could be stored at any of six maintenance facilities scattered around El Paso and Teller counties.  

    The process of reclaiming signs starts by calling CDOT at 227-3246 and leaving a message. CDOT will track down your signs and tell you where to find them.  

    I found a big pile at the maintenance yard near I-25 and South Circle Drive at 2025 Commercial Boulevard.  

    This maintenance yard on Commercial Boulevard is one of six the Colorado Department of Transportation maintains in El Paso and Teller counties.

    Buddy Gilmore, candidate for mayor of Colorado Springs, caught a Brickman Group landscaper taking down campaign signs of his rivals in the race.

    But CDOT isn’t the only group taking signs. Some are taken illegally, as mayoral candidate Buddy Gilmore discovered. 

    He kept noticing signs of his opponents and City Council candidates disappearing along Briargate Parkway and surrounding streets.

    So he was keeping an eye out the window of his office near the corner of Briargate and Explorer Drive. On Wednesday, a sign for Sean Paige vanished.

    Mayoral candidate Buddy Gilmore snapped this photo of a Brickman Group landscaper carrying away a Sean Paige city council campaign sign.

    Buddy jumped in his car and started hunting for the thief.

    Soon, he came upon a landscaper from the Brickman Group carrying freshly plucked Paige signs.

    Gilmore confronted the man, who said he was ordered to remove the signs, which were legally placed on city right-of-way.

    Turns out the landscaper was carrying out orders of the Briargate Business Campus Owners Association, Gilmore said.

    Somebody, perhaps the management company, doesn’t like signs and ordered them removed. Or stolen, in other words.

    It’s not a petty crime. Gilmore said he’s lost 800 signs this campaign, at $1.50 apiece!. There were nine mayoral candidates and about 1,000 candidates for City Council. They’ve all complained of lost signs and that adds up to some real money.  

    I also discovered there are sign vigilantes out there. Some folks don’t like signs of any kind cluttering the roadways. They go around and steal them, said Ken Lewis, the city code enforcement administrator. At least one vigilante has been charged with theft.

    I had no idea.



    Wed, September 1, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with 2 comments

     At the corner of Briargate Parkway and Union Boulevard sits 108 acres of rolling prairie meadow . It’s mostly grasses and a few trees. The south fork of Pine Creek meanders through it.




    For 20 years, it has been envisioned as a community park with pavilions, sports fields, courts and other amenities.




    It was billed as a place where people from the region would gather, as compared to neighborhood parks designed to serve a limited area.




    But for now, and the forseeable future, it will remain a field — a place for joggers, for watching birds and other wildlife, for dogs to run.

    Cathy Post, librarian at the Academy International Elementary School, is flanked by the undeveloped 108-acre Venezia Park. Post has worked since 1991 to get the park developed.

    And it will remain a huge  disappointment to people like Cathy Post, a librarian at Academy International Elementary School, who moved to the surrounding neighborhood 12 years ago thinking her family would enjoy the huge park.

    She even got her students involved in the planning process. They wrote letters, drew pictures and even attended a City Council meeting to urge approval of the park. When it finally given the go-ahead, she raced back to school and made an announcement over the PA system to celebrate. Her students, she said, were so happy.

    The park was so close to becoming a reality it started showing up on maps as “John Venezia Park” — named for the developer of the area. But it’s just a field.

    Plans are impressive. They call for 30 acres to be developed and the remaining 78 or so to be left as open space to protect habitat for the endangered Preble’s meadow jumping mouse. Here’s a look at the blueprints.

    The city was poised to begin construction in 2008. It’s first plan was to use $1.7 million to launch work on the infrastructure – electrical, plumbing, curbs and gutter.

     The money was a combination of $700,000 from the Trails, Open Space and Parks tax and $1 million from a fund created by fees developers pay in lieu of building neighborhood parks, says Sarah Bryarly of the cityparks department.

    Rather than build it in phases, the city decided to use a funding mechanism called “Certificates of Participation.” They are sold to investors and paid off over several years, like bonds.

    But before the COPs could be sold, the nation’s economy crashed and financing evaporated.

    Now, no money exists for new parks. The city’s sales tax revenues have collapsed, forcing City Council to slash the parks department budget, along with others.

    But not everyone is ready to give up. Cathy is determined to keep hope alive for Venezia Park. 

    She is attending meeting and lobbying for officials to find money, somewhere, to get the park built.

    Prospects for the park are not good.

    Bryarly said construction could start immediately if money was available.

    But Kurt Schroeder, a parks department official, said even if the city could find $9.5 million to build it, there’s no money for ongoing maintenance.

    His agency’s budget has been slashed by 80 percent and it’s not likely to be restored anytime soon. Absent a windfall, Venezia will remain on the shelf.

    “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to add facilities if we don’t have maintenance money,” Schroeder said.

    Here’s a link to the city’s community parks web site for more information.

    And here’s a Feb. 26, 2007 column I wrote on the park.