2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Pinecliff residents take aim at indoor shooting club proposal

    Wed, January 15, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Bob Holmes, owner of Whispering Pines Gun Club, has proposed building an approximate 18,000-square-foot indoor shooting range, including a 100-yard-long rifle range, on the 2.5-acre lot in the center of the photo, which looks south from the top of a cliff 250 feet above the sight in the Pinecliff neighborhood. Photo courtesy Gail Morrison.

    Bob Holmes, owner of Whistling Pines Gun Club, has proposed building an approximate 18,000-square-foot indoor shooting range, including a 100-yard-long rifle range, on the 2.5-acre lot in the center of the photo. The view is  south from the top of Popes Bluff, from a cliff 250 feet above the proposed shooting range in the Pinecliff neighborhood. Photo courtesy Gail Morrison.

    Preparations for war are underway in Pinecliff, a normally serene and secluded, upscale neighborhood in northwest Colorado Springs built atop a ridge known as Popes Bluff.

    Armed with sound wave analyses, fears of  airborne lead poisoning and, worse, predictions of PTSD-inducing noise from incessant gunfire including perhaps large-caliber machine guns, a small group of neighbors is rallying Pinecliff’s 671 homeowners to descend en masse on the Colorado Springs Planning Commission on Thursday.

    They hope to convince the commission to reject an indoor shooting range proposed for construction at the base of Popes Bluff.

    But could they be all going off half-cocked, so to speak?

    Bob Holmes, founder of Whispering Pines Gun Club, is seen in a club video at his indoor shooting range east of Colorado Springs.

    Bob Holmes, founder of Whistling Pines Gun Club, is seen in a club video at his indoor shooting range east of Colorado Springs.

    Bob Holmes, who wants to build the $3 million-plus shooting range, thinks so.

    The commission’s agenda includes a request from Bob Holmes, owner of Whistling Pines Gun Club near U.S. Highway 24 and Marksheffel Road, to build a new facility in a light industrial area not far from the Western Forge foundry on the north side of Garden of the Gods Road, just east of Centennial Boulevard.

    To be called Whistling Pines West, the private club would feature an approximate 18,000-square-foot building, based on plans filed with the Colorado Springs Planning Department. It would be built on a 2.5-acre lot along Douglas Creek that Holmes bought for $245,000 in May 2013, according to El Paso County Assessors records.

    A big difference between the eastside facility, which opened in 2006, and the proposed club would be inclusion of a 100-yard-long shooting range big enough to accommodate large-caliber rifles.

    The prospect of constant small-arms fire punctuated by the boom of heavy duty weapons has Pinecliff residents directly above the site has folks upset.

    “Do not make this a ‘gun issue’,” said Dick Bursell, a neighborhood organizer. “Many objectors are avid gun owners themselves. It really is a home ownership and quality of life issue.”

    Neighbors have an extreme sense of urgency in their efforts to defeat the gun club after discovering a 1998 law that they believes exempts gun clubs from municipal noise ordinances.

    The Pinecliff neighborhood is built atop Popes Bluff just west of Interstate 25 near Garden of the Gods Road. Bob Holmes has proposed building an indoor shooting range at the base of the 250-foot-high bluff and neighbors are upset at the prospect of hearing gunfire from small arms and large rifles. Photo courtesy John Wei.

    The Pinecliff neighborhood is built atop Popes Bluff just west of Interstate 25 near Garden of the Gods Road. Bob Holmes has proposed building an indoor shooting range at the base of the 250-foot-high bluff and neighbors are upset at the prospect of hearing gunfire from small arms and large rifles. Photo courtesy John Wei.

    “It’s what I call the ‘Gun Range Sanctuary Protection Act,’ Bursell said. “Once it’s built and in operation, I don’t see how the city could press any noise complaints, or enforce their sound or noise ordinances, since they could so easily argue that the sounds are from range’s  ‘normal’ operations.”

    Trouble is, Holmes said, is that the neighbors are operating on half-truths and misinformation.

    Take the notion that 50-caliber BMG — short for Browning Machine Gun — will be fired routinely as the range. Not true, Holmes said.

    “The concussion from a 50-caliber BMG is unbearable at an indoor range,” Holmes said. “There is never going to be a 50-caliber BMG shot at our range. There will only be hunting rifles.”

    What about the law protecting indoor shooting ranges from municipal noise ordinances?
    “It’s not a real fear,” Holmes said. “It was written for ranges already in existence before homeowners build their homes. It doesn’t apply to us.”

    An architect's drawing shows the proposed Whispering Pines West Gun Club proposed for construction at the base of Popes Bluff, beneath the Pinecliff neighborhood north of Garden of the Gods Road and east of Centennial Boulevard. Courtesy Colorado Springs Planning Department.

    An architect’s drawing shows the proposed Whistling Pines West Gun Club proposed for construction at the base of Popes Bluff, beneath the Pinecliff neighborhood north of Garden of the Gods Road and east of Centennial Boulevard. Courtesy Colorado Springs Planning Department.

    Or the idea that lead-filled air will be blown into the neighborhood. Again, untrue, Holmes said, citing a series of air filters to be installed at the range.

    “The air going out of the range will be cleaner than the air going in,” Holmes said. “And we’re not going to charge the city for cleaning its air.”

    Then there’s the fear about incessant noise. Neighbors have attacked a sound wave study commissioned by Holmes that predicts gunfire will not be a problem in Pinecliff. The neighbors have declared it a flawed analysis.

    Holmes said his Littleton-based consultant is an unimpeachable expert.

    “Chances are, people on that ridge are not going to hear anything,” Holmes said, his voice rising in anger and frustration over the neighbors’ attacks. “These people are basing all this hysteria on false information.”

    An architect's drawing shows the proposed Whispering Pines West Gun Club proposed for construction at the base of Popes Bluff, beneath the Pinecliff neighborhood north of Garden of the Gods Road and east of Centennial Boulevard. Courtesy Colorado Springs Planning Department.

    An architect’s drawing shows the proposed Whistling Pines West Gun Club proposed for construction at the base of Popes Bluff, beneath the Pinecliff neighborhood north of Garden of the Gods Road and east of Centennial Boulevard. Courtesy Colorado Springs Planning Department.

    Neighbors are not comforted by Holmes’ pledge to soundproof his building until noise levels don’t exceed 45 decibels at the property lines.

    If he achieves that goal, it would satisfy the city’s strictest noise ordinances for residential areas, said Erin McCauley, a city planner who studied the project and recommended it be approved.

    Nor do they trust that Holmes added $167,000 to the cost of his building to improve sound-proofing with the addition of “super sound-suppressing doors” and triple-layered sheathing on the roof of the building, ventilation systems pointing south, away from the neighborhood, and more.

    “We will not open the facility if we do not meet the 45-decibel criteria,” Holmes said. “I will go up to the neighborhood and stand in peoples’ front yard with a meter and make sure we are below 45 decibels.”

    Perhaps resident John Wei best summed up Pinecliff neighbors’ fears in an email to me.

    “Gunshot noise, no matter what level, is not a noise which is tolerable,” Wei said.

    He noted that of the 16 homes on the street directly above the site, 10 are owned by retirees — nine by military veterans.

    He worries even muffled explosions of small and large weapons fired by the club’s 2,300 dues-paying members could trigger post traumatic stress disorder in some of the vets.

    “It could resurrect wartime memories,” Wei said, describing it as a potential tragedy if these folks can no longer enjoy their retirement years relaxing on their decks and taking in the mountain views their homes enjoy.

    011514 Side Streets 6“This is a life-changing issue for Pinecliff,” Wei said. “If a conditional use is approved for this gun club, a number of Pinecliff residents will be exposed to life-long repetitive noise. As such, we will most likely be prisoners in our own homes without any recourse.”

    It will be interesting to see what the commission does with this project at its 8:30 a.m., hearing, Thursday, in the Colorado Springs City Council Chambers in City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Ave. in downtown.

    Funny thing. Before it takes up Whispering Pines, the commission will consider another proposal to build a gun range to be called Majestic Mountain Range on 1.5 acres in an office park near the Colorado Springs Police Department’s Falcon substation on Kelly Johnson Boulevard near North Academy Boulevard.

    It generated some neighbor questions at a public hearing in December but not the uproar seen in Pinecliff, McCauley said.

  • BIG WHITE FENCE A RED FLAG FOR NEIGHBORHOOD TROUBLE

    Mon, February 18, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    A tall white fence surrounds the home of Michele LaPierre on Cheyenne Road. Neighbors complained that it blocked their views when backing onto the busy road and was too tall. City planners agree and have ordered it lowered or removed.

    Driving up Cheyenne Road, the tall, white fence surrounding the perimeter of a little century-old bungalow gives the place the look of a compound, complete with its security gates front and back and white shutters across the front windows.

    The white fence is more like a red flag, actually, signalling trouble in the southwest neighborhood bordering Ivywild and the Broadmoor neighborhoods, where old homes sit on long narrow lots amid mature trees.

    Big trouble has been percolating around the big white fence and it has involved angry confrontations, calls to police, code enforcement officers, restraining orders, trips to court and, inevitably, attorneys.

    The fence will again be the center of attention Thursday before the Colorado Springs Planning Commission as its owner, Michele LaPierre, appeals a city decision that it must be lowered — it is eight feet tall — or moved back from property lines.

    LaPierre says she built the fence not long after buying the home in 2007 to replace a dilapidated fence and to shield her home from what she called “stifling” neighbors who made her uncomfortable by looking into her home.

    And she insists it is only six feet tall, as allowed by city code.

    Michele LaPierre argues the two-feet-tall lattice work, decorative lights and planters atop her fence should not be counted in the height of the structure. City planners disagree.

    “It’s a six-foot fence with a two-foot lattice on top,” LaPierre said repeatedly.

    Her attorney wrote a lengthy and detailed explanation why the fence deserves a variance from city codes: the old fence was a dilapidated eyesore; she wants to be a foster parent and needs a fence; Cheyenne Road is dangerously busy. And she argues there are plenty of fences in the neighborhood that violate code.

    City planner Erin McCauley was more succinct in rejecting the variance.

    “Our codes say anything over six feet tall . . . must meet setback requirements,” McCauley said.

    Michele LaPierre’s fence runs the entire perimeter of her property from the street to the alley. City planners say it violates codes and must be lowered or set back.

    That means the fence must sit 25 feet from the street and five feet from the property lines on each side and in back.

    LaPierre said the fence ought to stay because it improves neighbors’ property values.

    “We’re so surprised there is no compassion from the city,” she said. “We’d hate to take the fence down.”

    McCauley is puzzled LaPierre is even appealing, saying it was her understanding she had moved back to California and was selling the house.

    When I spoke to LaPierre, she said she was, indeed, living in the Bay Area. But she said emphatically she is not selling her home.

    Michele LaPierre asked me angrily if I saw a “For Sale” sign in her yard. Honestly, the huge fence makes it impossible to see her yard.

    “Do you see a for sale sign in my yard?” she asked angrily.

    Then she said she may be forced to sell if the city insists on making her lower her fence.

    “We don’t know we’re welcome there,” she said. “We’ll just completely move out of the state and sell everything we own. We’re pretty upset. Pretty devastated by this process. They are not sympathetic.”

    I called some neighbors to try to figure out what is going on.

    That’s when I learned of the ugly confrontations, police and all.

    Next-door neighbor Rolf Miller described five years of turmoil, which he attributed to a dispute over a hedge of 15-foot-tall lilacs that ran down their shared property line.

    Miller said he maintained the hedge for years and was surprised when LaPierre mentioned she wanted a fence.

    “She wanted to put up a fence with vines on it and wanted to cut down this beautiful lilac hedge I’d been taking care of for years,” he said. “I came home one day and the hedge was gone.”

    Then the fence went up, constructed two feet over the property line in his yard, Miller said.

    “We made her get a survey and it ticked her off,” he said. “She had to pay to move the fence.”

    Miller said the relationship deteriorated when she hung “No Trespassing” signs along the fence, facing the windows in his home.

    Miller said he and his wife had to call police when she began confronting and screaming at them. Finally, last fall, he sought a restraining order at the suggestion of police.

    “We went to court-ordered mediation,” Miller said. “The judge made her take down the ‘No Trespassing’ signs. He said she couldn’t talk about us anymore or harass us. And as part of the agreement, she agreed to move.”

    LaPierre disputed Miller’s account of the disagreements. She blamed him and said he’d violated their mediated agreement not to say disparaging things about each other.

    I tried to ask her about the five-point contract filed with the court showing signatures of the Millers, LaPierre and her attorney on Nov. 30, 2012.

    I asked her about paragraph two, which states LaPierre was moving as “a condition of this agreement.” It set a deadline of De. 20, 2012.

    “He filed a restraining order and we were able to stop it,” LaPierre said, repeatedly interrupting me as I tried to ask her about the dispute.

    “He’s the terror of the neighborhood,” LaPierre said of Miller. “He’s wicked. If we’d known how he was, we’d never have invested in that house. My neighbors love me.”

    In fact, three neighbors wrote the city to cite adverse impacts due to the fence. And Ken Lewis, code enforcement administrator, said his office received complaints from other neighbors besides the Millers.

    The three-year battle over the red-brick wall built by Holger and Sally Christiansen around their Old North End Neighborhood home ended when a judge ordered it lowered to comply with city building codes which set a maximum height of 6 feet.

    The whole thing reminds me of the beautiful red brick wall Holger and Sally Christiansen built around their home on North Cascade Avenue in the Old North End Neighborhood in 2007.

    The wall was too tall and sat too close to property lines in violation of city codes.

    The city ordered it moved or lowered. There were hearings, lawsuits, a three-day trial.

    Three years later, after tens of thousands of dollars were spent and gallons of stomach acid generated, guess what? The couple lost and the wall was lowered. Brick by brick.

    It will be interesting to see how this fence dispute is resolved.

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  • CONVENIENCE STORES TRIGGER CONTROVERSY IN NEIGHBORHOODS

    Mon, February 4, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with 6 comments

    .

    This is the tale of two convenience stores. One story is complete and the other has not played out quite yet. But I was intrigued by the parallels.

    A year ago, a hundred or so angry Springs Ranch residents packed a public meeting to try to stop a convenience store from being built in the neighborhood.

    They felt betrayed because they believed a YMCA was planned for the vacant 5.6-acre lot. Instead, the YMCA planned to use proceeds from the land sale to finance a new facility elsewhere.

    Residents listed fears of increased traffic, crime, loitering, fumes and the proximity to Sand Creek High School in opposing a Kum & Go convenience store and gas station at North Carefree Circle and Peterson Road.

    “It was all very dramatic,” said neighbor Lou Morales, who said the Springs Ranch Community Association and its 18 sub-homeowners associations met and strategized and argued on behalf of residents. Some vowed to appeal if they lost. Some actually moved away.

    But the effort ultimately failed and Iowa-based Kum & Go won approval in November. I wondered why neighbors calmed down so.

    “Kum & Go listened and cooperated with the neighborhood,” Morales said. “They made changes.

    “In the end, everybody was resigned that Kum & Go was coming in. Nothing would stop it.”

    A few months behind the Kum & Go in the planning pipeline came plans for a 7-Eleven convenience store and gas station on a 15.3-acre lot at Roller Coaster Road and North Gate Boulevard.

    Instead of “Oh, thank heaven!” the neighbors in Flying Horse gulped and exclaimed “Oh good Gawd!” and sprang into action.

    Leading the opposition is Mark Henkel who said neighbors feel betrayed because they expected boutiques and high-end shops.

    “We don’t want a place that has height markers on the inside of the door,” Henkel said, referring to common door markings used by police to determine the height of robbery suspects exiting a store.

    Like the folks in Springs Ranch, they organized, raised awareness and turned out en masse for public hearings.

    They insisted they were not opposed to commercial development on the lot. Just a convenience store.

    “A convenience store is a magnet for crime,” Henkel said, arguing that Colorado Springs is being saturated by convenience stores.

    (Personally, I’m amazed how many rental lockers are available in the area. And payday loan places and pawn shops. But that’s just me.)

    Other neighbors told the Colorado Springs Planning Commission they were promised a “Broadmoor of the North” type commercial development on the site. Not a 24-hour gas station and Slurpee stop.

    Of course, I figured Flying Horse would have about as much luck as Springs Ranch.

    Imagine my surprise, shock actually, when the project failed to win planning commission approval. It failed on a 4-4 vote with Commissioner Robert Shonkwiler excused, according to minutes of the November meeting.

    It was no surprise when developer Classic Co. appealed to the City Council.

    Henkel and the neighbors were prepared to defend their victory. But they were puzzled when the council didn’t even bother to hear the appeal. Instead, the issue was immediately kicked back to planning commission for reconsideration.

    “It didn’t seem right that they didn’t even hear the appeal,” Henkel said, noting that council members did not seem informed about the project.

    I expect an interesting debate before the Planning Commission on Feb. 21. No doubt many in Flying Horse will be watching.

    And, I expect, there will be some interested folks in Springs Ranch, too.

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  • DEVELOPER SAYS MASSIVE TOWNHOMES BUILT ‘BY MISTAKE’

    Thu, April 5, 2012 by Bill Vogrin with 42 comments

    She and other neighbors knew the hard-fought site development plan approved by the city in 2006 called for Todays Homesto build lower-profile townhomes that slope down, with the natural grade, not sit atop 7 feet of dirt.

    One of three Dublin Terrace Townhome buildings built in violation of the development plan, the city says.

    But before long, her home and the others on Whereabout Court, along with several on Many Springs Drive, were being dwarfed by three towering new townhome buildings, each upwards of 35-40 feet tall.

    “I look out my window and their front doors are higher than my fence,” English said. “These buildings loom over me. This is crazy.”

    The development plan called for the townhomes to slope down with the grade. Instead, developer Todays Homes hauled in tons of dirt, built a retaining wall and elevated the entire structures about 7 feet, the city says.

    Now, those buildings are ready for occupancy but the city won’t allow it because officials say they are in serious violation of the development plan.

    Todays Home president Mil Younkers says the structures were built by mistake and he’s asking the Colorado Springs Planning Commission at its April 19 meeting to amend the 2006 site plan and let them remain.

    Younkers insists it’s not a case of a rogue developer deliberately ignoring the blueprints, building what he wanted and then asking forgiveness once construction was finished.

    “No one maliciously went out and built those units,” Younkers said.

    The city-approved development plan called for lower-profile structures, like the brown building in the middle, to be adjacent to the neighborhood, on the left, and buffer the homes from more massive buildings like the one on the right.

    “We’ve told the homeowners it was a mistake. We told the city we made a mistake. Now how do we rectify it?”

    Younkers said the error is the result of a complete change in leadership at Todays Homes in 2009 when he was hired as president and brought in a new team.

    He said his team struggled to sell three townhomes in the first low-profile building constructed a year ago.

    “The market was not responding to the units approved for those lots,” he said. “We made the marketing decision to build (larger) units.

    “We contacted our surveyor and confirmed they would fit and we made the change.”

    Side by Side DrawingsBut the development plan dictates what could be built, I told him.

    The blueprints show exactly which type building goes on which lot. There was no ambiguity I could see. How could that be a mistake?

    “No one understood specific building types were called out on that plan,” Younkers said. “It got by us all.”

    New Dublin Terrace Townhome buildings tower over a home on Whereabout Court.

    English scoffed at that explanation. Me, too.

    “They are professional builders,” she said. “How could you not know that?”

    Younkers added that the city should have caught the error when Todays Homes requested building permits or during multiple inspections by the Regional Building Department.

    This comparison shows how the foundation of the original lower-profile townhome on the left slopes down with the natural grade while the new building on the right steps up and sits atop a retaining wall and 7-feet of dirt.

    City planner Rick O’Connor rejects that suggestion, pointing to the blueprints, which spell out detailed guidelines for grading and building types.

    “We had very specific conditions on the developer to address the impacts of size, scale and bulk of this project on the adjacent single family homes,” O’Connor said. “That’s why we required lower-profile units next to the neighborhood.”

    So what happens now, I wondered.

    The city is evaluating the Todays Homes proposal and taking neighbors’ suggestions.

    The feedback is not terribly positive.

    “Tear them down,” said Bill Sheridan, a seven-year Whereabout Court resident. “The developer admitted they couldn’t make any money selling the smaller units. So they decided to build the larger buildings.

    One of Todays Homes floorplans for the Dublin Terrace Townhomes

    “The city ought to pull their license, fine them to the maximum extent of the law, tear them down and put in what was approved.”

     

    Would the city be satisfied with Younkers’ suggestion he chop 8 feet out of the roofs of each building to soften the lines and plant 50 trees to buffer the buildings?

    “I think it’s going to very difficult for them to comply with our review criteria,” O’Connor said ominously. “I think moving the buildings may be an option.”

    Moving buildings that cost $300,000 or so to build? Really?

    “It’s not conceivable that these buildings could be moved,” Younkers said.

    Well, then. Maybe a solution will emerge from a neighborhood meeting Younkers is planning next week.

    Or, I suppose, they could just take Sheridan’s suggestion: “Blow them up!”

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  • BAKERY STUNNED WHEN YEARS OF NEIGHBORHOOD PEACE ENDS ABRUPTLY

    Fri, March 23, 2012 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    Larry Vasterling installs parking signs outside the bakery he bought in 1996 with his wife, Jane Vasterling. Recently, they asked the city for a technical change to their zoning and were stunned by neighbor reaction.

    For 16 years, Jane and Larry Vasterling ran their Little London Cake Shoppe in a century-old storefront at 25th Street and Bott Avenue on the west side and everything was great.

    They shared clam chowder and cake with next-door neighbor Larry Sipe and even hired his son at the bakery. Other neighbors were just as friendly.

    Then the Vasterlings — both in their 60s — started thinking about slowing down and maybe taking a long trip. The bakery would need a manager.

    That’s when they discovered they couldn’t let anyone else run their shop, with its three employees.

    Worse, they would never be able to sell their bakery.

    Seems a city hearing examiner had made a baffling error in 1996 when they bought the place and got a variance from the area’s residential zoning to allow their wholesale bakery.

    Instead of attaching the variance to the property, as is normal, it was attached  to Jane and Larry. By name!

    No one else could operate the bakery. Ever.

    The second surprise came when they asked the city to fix it. Neighbors went nuts.

    Larry Sipe told the Colorado Springs Planning Commission on March 15, 2012, the noise of the rooftop exhaust fan "bothers me greatly" even though city officials, noise experts and other neighbors can't hear it.

    Folks they considered friends attacked them at a public meeting, accusing them of trying to sneak in a medical marijuana shop.

    They unleashed anger over animals, especially bears, getting in the bakery trash and over customers parking on the street near the shop.

    Jane was stunned.

    The rooftop exhaust fan on Little London Cake Shoppe.

    “No one ever told us,” Jane told the city Planning Commission last week. “They’ve all turned against me.”

    Worst, they learned their friend Larry Sipe was bitter over an exhaust fan on their second-story roof.

    The fan generally runs daytimes, Monday through Friday. Sipe insists he hears it day and night.

     “I never knew the fan drove him crazy,” Jane said. “No one else can hear it and he never mentioned it.”

    Experts tried to measure the fan noise and it couldn’t be heard above the ambient noise of the neighborhood.

    The white wall of Larry Sipe's house is visible on the left. The rooftop exhaust fan can be seen through the trees on the right.

    I tried and failed to hear what Sipe told the commission: “creates all this noise and bothers me greatly.”

    This is a link to my video. Hear for yourself.

    Even so, the Vasterlings are working to appease Sipe and the others. They immediately got a bear-proof trash bin. They put up signs to deter parking down the street. And they are building a shield around the fan.

    “All I’m asking for is a variance so I can pass the business on to a family member,”

    The cake shop was built in 1900 as a grocery store with living quarters upstairs. It has always been a commercial property. Larry and Jane Vasterling bought it in 1996.

    Jane told the commission before it voted unanimously to grant her a new variance.

    “I don’t ever want to retire. I don’t ever want to leave that cake shop. It’s my passion. I don’t want to sell. But this has put fear in the neighbors.”

    It’s so ugly one neighbor, a renter with a trash-strewn yard, is profanely accosting customers who dare park near his house. How rude.

    A view of Larry Sipe's house on the left and the back of the Little London Cake Shoppe. It's trash bin was out awaiting pickup by the trash hauler. Typically, the bin is stored behind the building.

    Have we become so uncivil we can’t talk over the fence anymore? We’d rather suffer in silence and confront in public than have a simple conversation? Yikes!

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  • NEIGHBORS TELL BROADMOOR TO PITCH TENT

    Fri, March 9, 2012 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    This is the type of tent, covering 40,000 square feet, that The Broadmoor wants to erect next to its Events Center for the Space Symposium in April and other conventions.

    Say your neighbor wanted to put up a tent in the backyard and have a few friends over for a weekend party. No problem, right?

    What if your neighbor was The Broadmoor hotel, its tent covered 40,000 square feet and its guest list included hundreds of conventioneers attending the Space Symposium next month?

    Yeah, that’s a little different. And, as you might expect, a few folks living near the proposed 7.3-acre tent site have a problem with it.

    The 7.3-acre parcel where The Broadmoor intends to erect a 40,000-square-foot tent currently is used for employee parking. Neighbors object to both uses. Neighbor Hannah Polmer's house can be seen in the center at the far end of the lot.

    Hannah Polmer's home on Mesa Avenue sits up against a wall around the 7.3-acre vacant parcel where The Broadmoor wants to erect a huge tent.

    .

    One neighbor, Hannah Polmer, is so upset she is asking the Colorado Springs Planning Commission to block the tent as a zoning violation. She also wants parking banned. The appeal is set for debate March 15.

    “We and several of our neighbors are concerned that the tent is not consistent with the use permitted,” Polmer said in a letter to the city. (She declined to talk to me.)

    Her letter noted that since the hotel built its Event Center in 2003, the adjacent 7.3-acre parcel has been vacant.

    Here's an architect's drawing of the 7.3-acre parcel where The Broadmoor wants to erect a 40,000-square-foot tent over an asphalt parking lot.

     It is awaiting 17 planned high-end “brownstone” duplexes, similar to units on nearby Lake Avenue.

    She and others want the brownstones built to preserve the area’s residential character. They’d accept a park until the economy improves and the brownstones project can proceed.

    But they don’t want tents and cars on the lot.

    “Our even greater concern is the presence of this tent indicates undisclosed plans by the Broadmoor Hotel to undertake more extensive development in that area,” Polmer wrote. “We have no assurance that there will be a buffer between the properties as provided for under City Code.”

    Others living along Mesa Avenue share her concerns, including fear the tent will become permanent, not just used on occasion for a few conventions.

    Hannah Polmer's house and property abut the 7.3-acre parcel on two sides. The small circles zig-zagging along the perimeter represent pine trees The Broadmoor transplanted on the berm to shielf her property.

    The arguments did not sway city planner Mike Schultz, who approved the Broadmoor’s request to amend its development plan to allow the tent.

    He said the hotel could easily get a temporary permit for the tent. This will just be more convenient.

    “The Space Symposium has grown so big they’ve run out of room in their event center,” Schultz said. “Intead of putting booths in their parking structure, they want to put them in the tent. It’s a nuisance and a safety issue.”

    Schultz also granted the hotel a variance from zoning to allow employees to park on the lot when the tent is not in use, as they have for five years.

    He said the tent is an improvement over the hotel’s greenhouse, a gas station and a maintenance facility that stood on the land for years. And the hotel has built a six-foot berm, topped by a wall and transplanted a couple dozen pine trees to try to shield the neighbors.

    “The hotel doesn’t know how much more they can do,” Schultz said. “Some of the neighbors just don’t want to se it happen at all. We’ve tried to mediate it.”

    I’m guessing regardless how the Planning Commission rules, the City Council will end up deciding this one.

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  • OLD VS. NEW PITS VILLA DE MESA AND GOLD HILL

    Sun, July 24, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    This is an early architect's drawing of the Gold Hill Mesa residential and retail development.

    Notice the rectangular white hole in the middle of the drawing for Gold Hill Mesa

     That is Villa de Mesa, a 25-unit townhome complex built in 1970-71 by developer George Shiner as part of a sprawling community of 500-plus townhomes surrounded by apartment buildings and a shopping center. 

    But the project ended after the first 25 units were built. And tiny Villa de Mesa has been an island ever since. 

    That is until developer Bob Willard came along and conceived his Gold Hill Mesa on the 210 acres surrounding Villa de Mesa. 

    Developers have long eyed the former Golden Cycle gold and silver milling site at 21st Street and U.S. Highway 24. On the left is a blueprint for Villa de Mesa, a townhome community launched by developer George F. Stiner around 1970. Only one small 25-unit section was built. On the right is an early architect's drawing of Bob Willard's Gold Hill Mesa project. It broke ground in 2005 with plans for 1,800 homes and 800,000 square feet of retail space. Today, it has 107 occupied homes.

    Actually, the plans for both projects are similar. While Shiner concentrated on townhomes and apartments, Willard conceived a broader mix of single-family houses, townhomes as well as commercial and retail space. 

    He broke ground in 2005 and today has 107 occupied homes on the 167 acres zoned residential. Initial plans called for upwards of 1,800 homes

    Today, after the crushing real estate collapse that hit in 2007, Willard said about 700 homes is a more realistic target. 

    Actually, the disaster hit Willard in February 2008 when his partner, California-based builder John Laing Homes, pulled out of the project. A year later, it declared bankruptcy. 

    Here's a current drawing of plans for Gold Hill Mesa. The areas along the north stretch of 21st Street will be commercial/retail development while residential areas dominate the southern portion.

    The Laing bankruptcy nearly caused Gold Hill Mesa to fail, as well. Willard said his line of credit was based on his contract with Laing and the builder’s agreement to buy 36 lots every three months. 

    When Laing failed, it abandoned three unfinished home foundations, one three-unit condominium foundation, and four partially completed homes. 

    Willard said he spent the last 18 months or so buying the abandoned buildings, as well as about 40 Laing lots, out of foreclosure. 

    In the meantime, he needed to develop new lots for other home builders to buy and build on. All without easy access to funds which dried up in the national mortgage meltdown. 

    Willard said his efforts to salvage his project left him with no money to complete a $300,000 concrete wall he promised to build around the existing Villa de Mesa neighborhood. 

    The wall is about half finished. A chainlink fence, wrapped in tarps, shields the other half of the boundary. 

    Willard said he intends to complete the wall when the economy improves and homebuilding takes off. But he’s not selling nearly enough lots yet to allow him to finish the wall. Willard said he expects to sell about 50 lots this year or less than half during his peak years. 

    Villa de Mesa is an island of 25 townhome units amid the construction of Gold Hill Mesa.

     Villa de Mesa residents are angry and want written guarantees that the wall will be built.

     Last week, they asked the Colorado Springs Planning Commission to enforce a contract Willard and the neighborhood signed in 2005 regarding the wall. Or they want Willard to post a bond to guarantee it’s construction if his project fails.

    They also want their views of the mountains protected from homes built along the wall. And they want drainage completed, as the 2005 contract promised.

    The planning commission approved Willard’s plans to develop 20 new lots adjacent to the south wall, despite Villa de Mesa neighbors’ objections. The commissioners urged Willard to finish the wall, but they said the project was too important to stop based on the wall. 

    This photo shows where Gold Hill Mesa Drive would be extended to 21st Street on the west. The new lots would be built along the drive with 16 backing up to the wall and four on the south side.

    Plans approved Thursday by the Colorado Springs Planning Commission call for Gold Hill Mesa Drive to be extended west to 21st Street and 20 home sites created, backing up Villa de Mesa's perimeter wall, visible on the right.

    Here is a look at the $30,000 gate and part of the wall Willard built for Villa de Mesa. The smokestack visible is a landmark from the old Golden Cycle gold and silver mill that operated on the property from 1906-49. 

    The Villa de Mesa sits behind a concrete wall and gate. Behind its stands an old smokestack, a landmark and reminder of the Golden Cycle Mill, which operated from 1906-49 on the site.

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    A view of some of the 107 occupied homes at Gold Hill Mesa.

    This photo shows the eastern edge of the wall that runs about 700 feet along the southern boundary of Villa de Mesa. Neighbors want the east wall built.

     But Willard said he doesn’t have the money now to do it and says it would be premature to build it before construction of adjoining streets and homes is done.

    The 25 homeowners of Villa de Mesa are angry the wall separating their 40-year-old community from the new Gold Hill Mesa is not completed. They are demanding developer Bob Willard complete the $300,000 concrete wall.

    Villa de Mesa residents are tired of looking at the tarp-wrapped chainlink fence installed as a temporary barrier during construction. It has grown tattered and has failed to keep out homeless people who have been discovered in the pool area of the neighborhood. It also flaps in the wind. 

    On the north and east boundaries of Villa de Mesa are marked by a chainlink fence wrapped in tarps.

    To read more about Gold Hill Mesa, check out these stories:

    An Oct. 25, 2006, story by Gazette business writer Rich Laden

    A Jan. 8, 2006, profile of the property by the Gazette’s Dave Philipps. It has some excellent history with great photos.

    A March 31, 2007, piece by Debbie Kelley of the Gazette.

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  • TINY NEIGHBORHOOD WINS — or did it?

    Sun, November 8, 2009 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Residents of the Rawles Open Space Neighborhood fought developer Kristine Hembre, below, and her plans to build five houses on a five-acre parcel in the tiny community along Mesa Road north of Uintah Street.

    kristinehembre

    But she satisfied the Colorado Springs Planning Commission and city staff with her plans, forcing neighbors to appeal to the City Council.

    There, in April, they argued the city had an obligation to protect the character of historic neighborhoods from incompatible developments.

    They said five modern houses, as Hembre proposed, on the parcel seen below from FlashEarth would ruin the Rawles neighborhood character with its rustic feel.

    Rawles residents cherish their rustic neighborhood, which was built around a 7.6-acre open space named for the property’s original owner.

     

     

    rawlesflash21

    Here’s a historic photo of the property:

     rawleshistoricphoto

     

    Here’s a look at the property on a map from the El Paso County Assessor’s Web site: 

    rawlesmap.

    .

    Here are blueprints Hembre’s Elle Development Co. created for the property. Her plan included installing 2,000 feet of sewer and water lines to serve her subdivision, called Horizon View

     

    rawlesblueprint

    Hembre had to be frustrated after spending three years and hundreds of thousands of dollars on her subdivision only to be told by the City Council in April to work with neighborhood opponents on a compromise.

    Especially after she satisfied all the demands of the city’s zoning and codes. Check out my previous blog posts from April 26 and May 3 to read more on her project.

    Despite that frustration, it was surprising when she dropped the project a couple weeks ago, just a day before she was to appear before the Council again to get her new plans approved.

    But neighbors might not want to celebrate. She told city staff her project isn’t quite dead. She’s just going to sit on it a while. Not a lot of new homes are being built in today’s economy.

    And who knows. After what happened on election day, she might have a whole new City Council to deal with in the near future and the outcome might be much different.

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