I was honored by the following interview conducted by the Colorado Springs Business Journal this past spring.
As director of urban design and landscape for Altitude Land Consultants, John Olson is the single point of contact in the Pikes Peak region for the firm’s clients. The company provides land surveying, urban design, civil engineering and landscape architecture — a comprehensive company for development. The Kansas State University graduate spent time with the Business Journal this week discussing development, traffic and Ruxton Avenue.
What are recent development trends?
Trends are slowly migrating away from the car-oriented suburban experiment we’ve endured. We’re moving toward a more fine-grained approach with smaller-scale developments in neighborhoods. This approach has great advantages, making it more resilient to economic conditions from the mega-sized approach that we saw before the bubble burst.
Why is now a great time to develop?
We’re beginning to see results from the downtown renaissance that’s been discussed for years, including a political focus toward infill by staff, the planning commission and our elected officials. Regulation adaptation, a strength of our planning department, is important for encouraging infill, giving our community a leg-up over communities bound to the code.
What work do you do in Denver?
I am in Denver probably every other week on average which can take a toll on patience and health when driving’s required. The Bustang [bus program servicing the Front Range] is a great step toward the bigger goal — commuter rail connecting cities on the Front Range. The ability to make this commute productive, better connects us and perhaps is our greatest economic development opportunity. I was envious traveling between Albuquerque and Santa Fe seeing the commuter rail. Why not continue it north along the Front Range? Imagine the impact for the Pikes Peak region.
Is there an infill trend in Colorado Springs?
I’m not convinced that you can call it a trend yet here. We are a long ways away yet from infill as the normal practice, as local developers and the community seemingly still favor the larger developments on the periphery. Infill becomes a trend when balance is achieved, which often translates to less easily developable land. We are blessed and cursed with expansion possibilities to the north and east. Infill costs and time are much higher and infill success to date has generally required an unquantifiable high amount of passion from developers like Bob Willard, Darsey Nicklasson, Mike Bristol, Joe Coleman and Eddie Bishop. We should all be grateful for their fortitude.
We need to think of infill in terms of geography, approval times and finding ways to remove the obstacles that are not as present for greenfield development.
Why is it more difficult to develop infill projects than projects on the edge of town?
Existing infrastructure — utilities, streets and buildings, land use constraints and frankly, presence of neighbors make infill more difficult. With edge-of-community development, extending utilities and roads are often necessary, but formulas are easier to make this happen. And neighbors are often not present or as engaged with their place.
What projects have you been working on in El Paso County?
We have carved out a niche for townhome and multi-family infill development from Denver south to Pueblo. We have apartments underway in Ivywild, a streetscape design in Old Colorado City and the Scott Hall Field of Dreams on the north side of town. Our current downtown projects include townhomes on Rio Grande, Michelson Park and [expanding] the Springs Rescue Mission.
Is there a plan for Ruxton Avenue in Manitou?
Ruxton Avenue is a fascinating corridor, one that’s been important for the Pikes Peak region since the late 1800s. It continues that destination identity today with the evolution of the Incline, the growth of the Cog Railway and access to Barr Trail. Our study focused on how people get to and from the Incline. Our conclusions were mostly about decreasing dependence on cars and providing alternatives to enhance the user experience, as well improve the quality of life for the businesses and residents.
Are there new developments with the Lincoln School?
Our discussions with the owner ultimately resulted in what will soon be a neighborhood amenity similar to Ivywild. Lincoln will include a barber, coffee shop, bakery, fitness center, our office and other businesses.
What do you like to do for fun?
I met my beautiful wife more than 15 years ago in college. Today, with two girls and one boy (11, 9 and 3), we travel and the whole family “gets” to share in my urban explorations to parts of cities that most families don’t visit. We’re outdoors as much as possible, exploring our community’s seemingly endless natural amenities.