Congested corridor has long way to go, but some areas looking better

Hector Luna wields a hammer Friday at a new condominium complex under construction in the 2800 block of North Avenue. The complex will feature 1,200- to 2,000-square-foot condos when finished. The general contractor is Lopez Construction.

Grand Junction’s four-mile stretch of North Avenue with its on-again, off-again sidewalks and a multitude of entrance points to businesses is not a city planner’s dream. Over the years, businesses were allowed in on a piecemeal basis, which lends to its hodgepodge character.

The good news is businesses and enterprises along the often congested road only stand to look better as time goes on. Already a few bright spots along the corridor fit in with the city’s plan. As new development moves in, the area will better reflect a unified vision for the avenue.

Residents and business owners met twice for focus groups in August to discuss their vision for the west end of North Avenue, between First Street and 12th Street. In December, the city will sponsor its first open house for the public to chime in with their thoughts for the 12-block stretch.

As it stands, there has not been a funding source identified for the city to redo roads or build other infrastructure to create a cohesive look.

The road is U.S. Highway 6, so it also is managed by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

A North Avenue Corridor Plan adopted in December 2007 acts as a road map for new development east of 12th Street.

Two new developments west of 12th Street reflect the changes city planners want to see: the new Fiesta Guadalajara, 710 North Ave., and the new Mesa State College dormitory and retail shops at 10th Street.

“They wanted to expand, and now it looks great,” Grand Junction city spokeswoman Kristin Winn said. “At first you think it will never change, but over time things do begin to change.”

In general, new development along the road should be moved toward the street, with parking along the sides or back of businesses. Requirements call for removing excess entry points into a business.

Fiesta Guadalajara’s landscaping acts as a buffer between the road and the sidewalk. Motorists now must access the restaurant from Seventh Street, alleviating potential vehicle crashes on the busier North Avenue.

“All hats off to them,” Grand Junction Principal Planner Dave Thornton said. “It’s a very visible corner. There’s a good example of their building being their sign.”

Further east on North Avenue, developer Bruce Milyard, a partner at Western Constructors, has gained city approval for a two-story, 48-unit apartment complex off 28 1/4 Road, east of Kmart. The apartments will face the road, and parking will be in the back. A bus stop is slated for the front of complex.

Milyard said he’s happy to do an infill project in the city, but he can see why such projects are a tough sell to developers. To comply with the regulations, his company must build a public road for access, so residents will not access the apartment complex directly from North Avenue.

“Infill projects inherently have problems,” Milyard said. “You don’t have a clean slate. There’s utility-access-connectivity problems, belligerent neighbors, whatever it may be. If you do it right, it’s an improvement overall to the good of the city. But it costs developers more. Any time you do a public street through development, it’s going to cost you more.”

Milyard’s project is awaiting financing approval from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Thornton said planners are seeking a cohesive vision for North Avenue, but that doesn’t mean the entire road will look the same.

Also, improvements in the look of the area may have to come from businesses. Horizon Drive businesses taxed themselves to make improvements in that area. Those kind of issues will be explored during the upcoming open houses.

City planners also are looking at options for bike lanes and ways to make crossings safer for pedestrians, but there are no easy answers to increase the size of the road. Mesa State College continues to grow, and 1,000 new beds will increase the student population living close to the road.

“As landowners come to the table, sometimes they’ll buy into a vision if it looks like others have, too,” Thornton said. “There’s a lot of variables in the next 25 years. We don’t want North Avenue to look like Colfax Avenue (in Denver).”


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