2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • BACK PAGES OFFER INSIGHT INTO TODAY’S HEADLINES

    Thu, January 31, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

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    Last week, I read an interesting item in The Gazette about Martin Drake.

    He’d been arrested and stood trial.

    Seems he failed to shovel the snow outside his real estate office in Colorado City.

    Yes. The story was about that Martin Drake.

    Martin Drake circa 1960
    courtesy Colorado Springs Utilities

    Before Martin Drake was a electric-generating plant more famous for generating headlines and heated debate over its future, there was a man who sold real estate, served 22 years on the Colorado Springs City Council and was honored with a power plant in his name as credit for his foresight in securing water resources and ensuring a cheap power supply through creation of a city-owned electric utility.

    The item was in our Back Pages column, which moved recently to page B2 of the Local & State section.

    I love the Back Pages, a daily feature that reports brief news headlines from 100, 75 and 50 years ago.

    It often includes names or events that resonate across the decades. Like the Jan. 23 item on Drake.

    In a few sentences, I learned Drake was a resident of Colorado City before it was annexed into Colorado Springs in 1917 and that the town was serious about snow removal.

    Martin Drake Power Plant, 2013, photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

    Drake and an associate, Frank Wolff, were “ordered into police court” to face charges. They were acquitted after they convinced the court of “a defect in the ordinance under which they were arrested.”

    So I looked up Drake and learned he was a native of Lawrence, Kan., who moved with his parents to Colorado City in 1878 at age 4. Not long after his snow trial, he got into banking and within two years was president of First National Bank.

    A political career followed and he was elected to the council in 1921, finishing second in the race to George Birdsall. (Interesting footnote: Birdsall’s name would one day adorn the power plant on North Nevada Avenue.)

    Back Pages is compiled by my friends at the Pioneers Museum and I asked director Matt Mayberry about how items are chosen.

    Roy J. Wasson circa 1960
    courtesy Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum

    “When researching, we scan for names and events that would echo in today’s world,” Mayberry said.  “I did Back Pages myself for years. It’s always fun whenever you find somebody who we revere today or think of as a landmark. It’s humanizing the past. And that’s what we do at the museum.”

    His crew did it again on Jan. 17 when the 50-year-ago item announced the retirement of Roy J.  Wasson after a 39-year career at School District 11, including 21 years as superintendent.

    Wasson was a legend in District 11. He’d taken over during World War II and guided the district during the turbulent war years and post-war boom with its explosive growth.

    Before his teaching career, Wasson was a decorated pilot during World War I.

    Roy J. Wasson High School, 2009, Gazette file photo

    He was so beloved that his D-11 board surprised him in 1958 by naming the district’s new “northeast high school” in his honor.

    Yes, it’s the same school now facing closure.

    Funny, isn’t it, how things like that happen.

    He was the symbol of smart growth and honored with a school bearing his name. Now, just 50 years later, the school is deemed excessive due to declining enrollment and shifting populations.

    Makes me wonder, what would Roy say

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  • ‘PPRTA’ SPELLS NEW ROADS, BRIDGES, SIDEWALKS

    Sun, February 19, 2012 by Bill Vogrin with 5 comments

     

    About 30 percent of the $104 million interchange at Woodmen Road and Academy Boulevard was paid for using PPRTA tax revenue.

    Ever wonder when Centennial Boulevard will be finished south from Fillmore Street, linking it to Interstate 25 at Fontanero?

    Maybe you’ve wanted Old Ranch Road widened at Kettle Creek. Or you want West Colorado Avenue and South 8th Street rebuilt with sidewalks, curbs, gutters and bike lanes.

    Those projects, and dozens more, are on the city’s wish list and they will be prioritized by the Colorado Springs City Council at its Feb. 28 meeting.

    You can check out the list . It is item 4-A-3 on the agenda and starts on page 26.

    Make your priorities known by contacting your Council rep.

    Then, in November, you’ll get more input when transportation officials ask voters to agree to pay for them all.

    The list includes projects scattered around Colorado Springs and lumped in five categories: expansion/enhancement; modernization/safety; non-motorized; preservation/restoration; and transit.

    Here's how the Proby Parkway interchange looks from GoogleEarth.

    Each project is graded and divided into the “A” and “B” categories. There are about 50 projects on the “A” list.

    Ranking the projects is a complicated process and required balancing lots of demands, safety questions and funding considerations.

    Take Centennial’s expansion. It’s been planned since the 1980s as Mountain Shadows and Peregrine developed and the high-tech industry boomed along the Garden of the Gods Road corridor. Centennial was to be the shortcut that took pressure off I-25.

    Of course, the high-tech corridor looks more like death row now. But plans for a Veteran’s Administration clinic at Centennial and Fillmore and other developments are putting new pressure on the city to finish the boulevard.

    The city would like to coordinate it with the planned reconstruction of the Fillmore-I-25 interchange, which the state Department of Transportation hopes to complete using a $10 million federal grant.

    “The problem is it needs to be completed with local money,” said Kathleen Krager, senior city traffic engineer. “We need $9 million. It’s on the A list of projects.”

    The question is how to come up with the money.

    Since 2004, a voter-approved one-cent sales tax has generated about $60 million a year for road construction, maintenance, sidewalks, curbs and gutters and bus service. The tax revenue is administered by the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.

    But that tax is expiring in 2014 and without a source of revenue, the wish list will remain just that — wishes.

    “If we have funding, the Centennial project would be built, starting in 2015,” Krager said.

    Faithful Side Streets readers — both of you — know the value of the tax. Often I’ve written about projects.

    And when I studied the new list, I was amazed at the needs that still exist across the community.

    Take a look and let the city know your priorities.

    Then, in November, tell them again!

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  • NEIGHBORS LOCKED IN UGLY WAR ON SILVERADO TRAIL

    Sun, January 29, 2012 by Bill Vogrin with 5 comments

    It was like watching a train wreck.

    Residents of Silverado Trail in Stetson Hills east of Powers Boulevard came before the Colorado Springs City Council last week and lobbed ugly at each other.

    “Pedophile.” “Pervert.” “Obsessive.” “Irresponsible parents.”

    It’s not often such a nasty neighborhood fight takes center stage at City Council.

    This screen capture from video shows Jeff Clarke as he testified on Jan. 24, 2012, before the Colorado Springs City Council. He was appealing an order by the city that he remove a basketball hoop built into the public right-of-way next to Silverado Trail.

    At issue was Jeff Clarke’s appeal to keep his basketball hoop, built illegally next to the curb and facing Silverado Trail, a street of modest homes built in the 1990s.

    Last summer, neighbors reported the hoop, with its steel pole, clear pastic backboard and adjustable mount, as a code violation.

    Karen Amos admitted to the council that she filed the complaint in retaliation against Clarke.

    The basketball pole can be seen against the curb on Silverado Trail. Jeff Clarke said the pole was there when he bought his house in 2003.

    “Mr. Clarke has made us all very accountable for our own actions with regard to not following the code,” Amos testified. “To me, fair is fair. You can’t pick and choose which rules to enforce and disregard the ones that apply to yourself.”

    As she, Clarke and neighbor Brigitte Scott testified, it became clear. Silverado Trail is a disaster zone.

    Clarke, his wife and three sons bought their home and its street-side basketball hoop  in 2003. Life was fine then.

    A career soldier, he retired  in 2006 after tours in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Then he returned to Afghanistan as a private contractor for two years.

    When he came home in 2010, the neighborhood had changed, he said.

    “In the time I was gone, many people have moved in and out of the neighborhood,” Clarke told me. “I come back and I’ve got foolish neighbors.”

    Neighbors reported this basketball hoop to the city as a code violation in retaliation against its owner, Jeff Clarke.

    He said neighbor kids take his landscaping rocks, damage his sprinkler heads and cars and pick his strawberries, apples and flowers.

    “Due to the damage, I placed security cameras on my property,” Clarke said. “The true problem isn’t the basketball hoop but the parental supervision of their children and not accepting responsibility for the damage that they cause.”

    Amos and Scott said Clarke is the problem, not them.

    In this screen capture from video, Silverado Trail resident Karon Amos explains why she complained to the city about Jeff Clarke's basketball hoop.

    They said he curses at their kids when they try to play on the basketball hoop, chasing them, screaming and intimidating them by photographing them.

    Clarke admitted he has screamed at the kids and chased them away.

    “But I didn’t cuss at the kids,” he told me. “I called them white trash. That’s my term of endearment for them and their parents.”

    I think you get the picture.

    The council did too, rejecting his appeal and giving him 45 days to remove the basketball hoop.

    But this one isn’t over yet.

    “I’m not pulling it out,” Clarke told me. “Absolutely not. I didn’t place it there. I’m not pulling it out.”

    What if neighbors get even more upset?

    “I’m not going to let anyone run me off my property or destroy or damage anything I’ve bought and paid for,” Clarke said. “If they want to get hostile, I can match their intensity.”

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    Follow this link to watch Jeff Clarke, Karen Amos and Brigitte Scott testify before City Council. Jump ahead to the 1:48:38 mark of the video.

    To read about it, follow this link to the City Council agenda and flip to page 137.

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  • REDEVELOPING VACANT HOUSES, BUILDINGS COULD GET BOOST FROM UTILITIES

    Sun, November 20, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    Chip Landman testifies before the Colorado Springs City Council, sitting in its dual role as the Utilities Board, on Sept. 21, 2011.

    In 2006, Chip Landman bought a dilapidated building out of foreclosure and started making plans to restore it — exactly the kind of “infill” development City Hall has promoted for years.

    Due to the recession, the building sat until 2009 when Landman learned from Colorado Springs Utilities that it would cost him thousands to reconnect the water and sewer services, which had been shut off when the bank took the property back years earlier.

    The huge cost of essentially turning a water valve created what Landman called “a chilling effect on redevelopment of old blighted properties.”

    It seems most of the Colorado Springs City Council agree and will consider slashing fees for restoring utility service based on sweeping changes suggested by Utilities staff.

    Colorado Springs City Council president Scott Hente

    “I’ve heard support for bringing this forward to City Council,” council President Scott Hente told the staff at an Oct. 19 meeting of the council, sitting as the Utilities Board. The council is expected to consider the new fees Dec. 13.

    Besides making it cheaper to redevelop commercial property, the proposed fee reductions would apply to residential properties, which have gone into foreclosure by the thousands.

    For decades, Utilities didn’t charge to restore utilities unless a property sat disconnected five years or longer. At that point it was deemed abandoned and fees imposed.

    In 2006, the codes changed and service was not considered abandoned until 10 years elapsed. Also, Utilities instituted a two-year grace period, after which service restoration fees were imposed. Beginning in 2010, the abandonment period was extended to 20 years.

    Dave Munger, president of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations

    Under the proposal Utilities proposed, the two-year grace period would grow to five years. And fees would drop. For example, instead of paying about $10,000 to reconnect residential service deemed abandoned, it would be capped at $3,008.

    Savings would be even greater for commercial customers. For a 2-inch meter inactive 10 years, reconnection would drop from about $14,000 to about $4,600. And restoring abandoned service would plunge from the current $116,000 to $14,000.

    The proposed fee reduction is welcome news to neighborhood activist Dave Munger, president of the Council of Neighbors & Organizations. He said he’s heard many complaints about the fees.

    “It’s in everyone’s best interest to figure out ways to encourage infill,” Munger said. “I’m glad to hear Utilities is rethinking its position on reconnection fees.”

    Andrew Knauf stands outside his house on West Pikes Peak Avenue. He turned off the utilities in 1993. When he called to get service reconnected about three months ago, he was told it would cost more than $11,000. He is appealing.

    It’s unclear if the new fees will help Andrew Knauf, who turned off utilities in 1993 to a house he owns on West Pikes Peak Avenue.

    When he tried to restore water and sewer a few months ago, he was told it would cost more than $11,000. He is appealing.

    “We’re talking about turning a valve,” Knauf said. “I can’t afford $11,000.”

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  • IS THAT REALLY BERNIE HERPIN DANCING IN HIS UNDERWEAR?

    Wed, November 17, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Yes. Kind of.

    Actually, it’s a computer-generated version of Bernie Herpin, the Colorado Springs City Councilman, dancing in his Fruit of the Looms after eating pot-laced brownies given him by council colleague Sean Paige.

    Colorado Springs City Councilman Bernie Herpin is depicted dancing in his underwear in a PikesPeakOcean cartoon on YouTube. Herpin, right, as seen on his website.

    Ed Billings

    The somewhat crude cartoon is the creation of Ed Billings, 40, who has lived in Colorado Springs since 1987.

    Billings is the creative force behind PikesPeakOcean, a “channel” on YouTube.

    Billings has created 159 videos and cartoons in the past year. Mostly, they satirize the Colorado Springs City Council.

    Some lampoon the city’s image as a national punchline after the council slashed budgets resulting in streetlights being turned off, trash cans removed from city parks and the sale of police helicopters.

    Billings says he was inspired to act after attending council meetings at City Hall last November and becoming upset at the proceedings.

    At first, he simply videotaped the meetings and posted excerpts on YouTube with commentary.

    Then he discovered the Xtranormal.com website and its tool for creating cartoons. Soon, Billings was cranking out two-minute cartoons featuring folks like Herpin, Paige, Mayor Lionel Rivera and other characters.

    Billings said he uses the cartoons to expose the dealings of the council. He describes them as classic political satire.

    I describe them out sometimes funny, often crude, unsophisticated and occasionally outrageous, over-the-top and even offensive.

    But I can’t stop watching them! Here’s a look at his PikesPeakOcean page on YouTube:

    In one video, Councilman Scott Hente is depicted trying to stop Billings from making his “trite little videos” in a confrontation at City Hall.

    Billings uses the video to declare he won’t be intimidated and encouraging viewers to stand up to government and take control back from the politicians.

    In one video, Billings uses the exact transcript of an email from Herpin as his script. In the email, Herpin attacked Billings, saying: “If you had half the sense God gave a turnip, you’d understand how the city budget works.”

    Herpin went on to tell Billings:

    “All you ranting, raving, lying, and misstating of facts isn’t going to increase the tax revenue to the city. Why don’t you stop sitting around in your underwear in your mother’s basement and get to work help those who are looking for solutions to the transit problem? Oh wait, that would mean you’d have to actually do some work.”
     
    Billings is not alone in his political satire on YouTube. His work inspired Springs native Dan Robertson, 52, to create his own cartoons which he posts at JCP1801 on YouTube.
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    Robertson now lives in Lincoln, Neb. But he feels strong ties to his hometown and believes the city is suffering a bad national image due to its handling of the homeless and its budget crisis.
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    Robertson is disabled from his truck-driving job. He follows daily happenings in Colorado Springs via Internet news sites. Then he collaborates with Billings before creating his own cartoons.
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    “I love the Springs, especially the west side,” Robertson said. “And I don’t like seeing what is happening there. I want the City Council to know they are getting national attention for what they are doing.
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    I’m trying to shine a light on the absurdity of what I see from this distance. There is a real divide between the haves and the have-nots.”
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  • HAPPY TRAILS, PEANUT, SPROUT AND JUDITH

    Sun, August 2, 2009 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Judith Kay is taking her miniature horses, Peanut and Sprout, and leaving Ron Court.

    And, probably, Colorado Springs, as well.

    Below are photos of the three:

    minihorsejudith2

     minihorsejudith1

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The City Council ruled last week that there just isn’t room at her small home and yard on Ron Court for the miniature horses.

    A couple neighbors complained the smell of hay and horses was causing them health problems with allergies. And they feared the horses would hurt their property values.

    It didn’t matter that Kay uses the horses as part of her 25-year-long tutoring program to help troubled and learning-disabled children.

    See my previous Side Streets column and previous blog for more detail on the issue.

     

     

     

     

     

     

                                            Below is a view of Ron Court, located just west of Circle Drive in the Knob Hill neighborhood north of Platte Avenue.

    minihorseculdesac1

    Peanut and Sprout are moving to MM Equestrian Center on Squirrel Road, east of Fountain.

    Here is a look at the center from its Web site:

    mmequestrianbarn1

    It will be their home until Kay can sell her place and move to a place that will allow her to reunite with her beloved horses. She hopes to avoid a possible $500 fine and 90-day jail sentence for violating city codes for keeping hoofed animals in the city.

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  • SOARING EAGLES feeling boxed in

    Wed, June 24, 2009 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    soaring-eagles-sign-and-ppeak

     

    Residents of the Soaring Eagles neighborhood in southeast Colorado Springs thought they had won the war in 2006 when they dissuaded Wal-Mart  from building a Supercenter on 28 acres of vacant land.

    Turns out, they only won the battle. On June 9, they lost the war.

    The Soaring Eagles Homeowners Association asked the City Council to spike a new concept plan for the vacant land. The plan includes an anchor building that is smaller than the 207,000-square-foot behemoth proposed byWal-Mart. But at 175,000 square feet, the building would be huge.

    The concept plan also calls for a dozen smaller building scattered across the property for shops and restaurants.

    Here’s a look from www.FlashEarth.com at the vacant property.

    soaringeagleflash

    Here is a drawing of the Wal-Mart project rejected in 2006.

    soaringeaglebefore

    Here is an architect’s drawing of the newly approved concept plan:

    soaringeagleartist

    Neighbors are not happy with the new plan. They say it is still too big for the neighborhood. They fear the owners still hope to lure Wal-Mart to the property.

    But Mike Schultz, city planner on the project, said it appears Wal-Mart is more likely to land on 40 acres about a half-mile to the west, along the Hancock Expressway, just south of Drennan Road.

    Here’s another FlashEarth image showing the possible Wal-Mart location:

    soaringeaglesflash2

    The neighborhood is considering a lawsuit to appeal the City Council decision. They have 30 days from the June 9 decision to file.

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  • SIZE DOESN’T MATTER after all

    Sun, May 3, 2009 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Size, when it comes to neighborhoods, doesn’t matter in Colorado Springs. At least not in conversations about protecting character and unique qualities of the places people live.

    The City Council declared on Tuesday that small, unique areas within larger neighborhoods can be identified as their own little entities and are worthy of being protected from incompatible development projects.

    Want to see it for yourself? Go to www.Springsgov.com and go to SpringsTV where you will find the council meeting waiting for viewing. Select “Item 12 – Horizon View” to fast forward to the Rawles Open Space Neighborhood’s appeal hearing.

    springstv                                    Or follow this link and when the media player pops up, under “View” drag down to “File Markers” and drop down to ” Item 12 - Horizon View.”

     It’s fascinating viewing for neighborhood enthusiasts.

    conodavemunger

     

    Dave Munger, pictured left, president of the Council of Neighbors & Organizations, an umbrella group for all Springs neighborhoods, asked the simple question: What is a neighobrhood and who decides?

     

    The answer may have surprised some.

    larrysmall

     

    Led by Vice Mayor Larry Small, left, the council gave a clear answer: Size doesn’t matter when it comes to protecting the character of neighborhoods.

     

     

     

    Tiny pockets of homes, like the Rawles Open Space Neighborhood, are distinct from the larger neighborhoods that most would recognize. In this case, the Mesa Neighborhood Association.

    The council’s declaration is significant because it shielded the Rawles group from a modern, five-house subdivision proposed on five acres in the area.

    kristinehembre

    The developer, Dr. Kristine Hembre, left, told the council she considers the Rawles Open Space an “eyesore” that she intended to improve by building her houses.

     

     

     

    Read more about it below in my April 26th post.

     

     

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