Urban renewal leader’s role in project questioned


The chairwoman of a city panel advocating a face-lift of North Nevada Avenue doubles as the attorney for a real estate company assembling land along the corridor in anticipation of its redevelopment.

Susan Wood-Ellis, who heads the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority, notified fellow board members in June of her dual roles and advised them she would abstain from voting on matters related to the North Nevada project.

Even so, until asked about the matter this week by The Gazette, Wood-Ellis continued to publicly tout the benefits of North Nevada’s redevelopment, most recently at the Urban Renewal Authority’s meeting in July.

Such actions by Wood-Ellis have raised questions about the propriety of sitting on the board and advocating a project in which her client has an interest, and whether she’s gone far enough as Urban Renewal Authority chairwoman to recuse herself from North Nevada issues.

Asked by The Gazette about her role in the North Nevada project, Wood-Ellis said she had complied with a state law spelling out do’s and dont’s for authority board members when conflicts arise.

“I’ve recused myself from all activity, all votes on the board regarding North Nevada,” she said.

Asked if she should engage in discussions related to planning North Nevada’s redevelopment, Wood-Ellis said the project isn’t far enough along to know.

“We’ll have to think about that,” she said.

Pressed about her role, however, Wood-Ellis said she no longer will involve herself in North Nevada discussions. During an Urban Renewal Authority meeting Thursday, Wood-Ellis left the room before North Nevada was discussed.

North Nevada, between Austin Bluffs Parkway and Interstate 25, has been targeted by city officials and business leaders as Colorado Springs’ next major urban renewal project.

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs owns about 350 mostly vacant acres on Nevada’s east side, and envisions transforming the land into a research and development center — a hub for job creation.

Meanwhile, business leaders and city and university officials would like restaurants, stores and offices to replace much of a scruffy collection of small motels and other businesses occupying Nevada’s west side.

As an attorney for a local law firm, Wood-Ellis represents Outlook Development of Colorado Springs. Outlook is seeking to assemble property on Nevada’s west side in anticipation of redevelopment.

In July, a Denver consultant determined North Nevada met the state’s definition of a blighted area. The City Council still must accept that finding and OK a general land-use plan before it declares the area an urban renewal site. That could happen this year.

The Urban Renewal Authority promotes city redevelopment projects – – typically initiating such efforts and overseeing planning and funding. The mayor appoints the authority’s unpaid board, although the City Council usually agrees to such appointments. Wood-Ellis has been a member for several years.

Vice Mayor Richard Skorman questioned if Wood-Ellis had gone far enough in divorcing herself from North Nevada proceedings. He and some council members were unaware of her dual roles.

“I’m concerned if she’s a part of the discussion, and if she’s advocating (redevelopment) in any way in front of the Urban Renewal Authority, that’s not the venue where she should be doing work for her client,” Skorman said when asked by The Gazette.

“It’s hard not to prejudice them (fellow board members) even if you’re not going to vote on it,” he said.

Jenny Flanagan, associate director of Colorado Common Cause, said Wood-Ellis’ decision to abstain from votes is a good first step.

Recusing herself fully, however, “is more appropriate,” said Flanagan, who added Wood-Ellis shouldn’t participate in any planning efforts.

Skorman lauded Wood-Ellis’ work during the years, but said it’s important to define what conduct is appropriate or inappropriate for her as an Urban Renewal Authority board member. City Attorney Patricia Kelly said she’d provide an opinion if the City Council asks.

“It’s early enough in the game that, hopefully, whatever lines have been stepped over, if any have, I think they can be easily taken back and not have any permanent harm to the project or to the reputation of the city,” Skorman said.

Copyright 2004

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

You May Also Like

Gazette still seeking new dining critic

Gazette still seeking new dining critic Anne Christensen has announced plans to set down her fork. If you’re interested in being the next…

Accused molester paid $106,000/ Victim’s mother testifies suspect

Accused molester paid $106,000/ Victim’s mother testifies suspect Bill Hethcock An accused child molester allegedly posed as a psyc…

Air Force is winning, but it doesn’t look pretty

Air Force is winning, but it doesn’t look pretty TODD JACOBSON THE GAZETTE Air Force junior center Nick Welch’s head was buried in …

‘Bourne Identity’ takes spy flick to another level

‘Bourne Identity’ takes spy flick to another level Craig Outhier At first blush, “The Bourne Identity” appears to have little in co…