Gilpin County Corner

Gilpin County Manager Roger Baker

Roger Baker, County Manager.    I’ve written many times about how dependent Gilpin County is on the gaming industry—pretty much the only industry in the County—and at Tuesday’s meeting of the County Commissioners there was an item where that dependence came into conflict with the County’s stated policy of maintaining a rural-like atmosphere in our unincorporated areas.

One of the great things about gaming from the County’s perspective is that while the two gaming cities have been radically transformed by the industry, impacts in the rest of the County have been relatively slight. It’s not like some of the communities you can see driving along I-70 where oil and gas wells and drilling rigs are popping up everywhere.

There’s one warehouse Ameristar uses up near the Library, but it’s probably less objectionable to the neighbors than several of the other commercial uses also in place along that commercial strip. And though lower Highway 119 has become very, very busy (despite the improvements completed to date), the addition of the Central City Parkway has actually facilitated our access to the Interstate compared to the pre-gaming situation.

And with all the traffic along 119 has come some limited growth in businesses—the small collection of shops at the Gold Dust Village hotel, and the gas station that was the subject of Tuesday’s public hearing..

So when John Zimpel came before the Commissioners for permission to put in a large, bright and active display sign down at the former Bullwhackers gas station (which he now owns; part of his purchase of the Black Hawk casino of the same name), the Commissioners had to balance their desire to support our local business community with the Commissioners’ wish to maintain that corridor as the scenic “front door” to the County, as well as to the gaming cities themselves.

Though John is a casino owner, the sign would promote not his casinos (that would be off-site signage, which the County doesn’t allow) but the gas station, and ultimately a number of tourist-oriented businesses he hopes to develop in a small commercial strip along the highway. The large electronic sign would advertise those businesses to the passing motorists, which makes sense if that’s the market for the products and services those businesses would provide.

But that raises another interesting issue: if a sign of this sort were approved at this site, how could they possibly be denied elsewhere? A large video display screen probably would help business at Taggert’s, or Roy’s Last Shot. Would supporting such signage be supportive of local businesses, or intruding on local residents’ (and travelers’) enjoyment of the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway?

Clearly, though, this section of Highway 119 below Black Hawk is different from what runs through the rest of the County—the streetlights alone create a very different environment.

Dilemmas like this are common in county (and municipal) government, of course. No one wants to see real estate agents’ “For Sale” signs cluttering up the highway—unless it’s your house that’s for sale, and then you want all the signage you can possible afford.

In the end, the Commissioners decided to officially allow the existing lighting at the gas station (which was technically in violation of our sign code, and had been for some time), but deny the larger display sign. Sometime in the future, John may return with a proposal (probably a Planned Unit Development) for the shopping mall that would address the signage issue again, or bring forward a stand-alone Comprehensive Sign Plan. But that could be years in the future.