2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • HOA’S $50 PARKING FINE BALLOONS INTO THOUSANDS

    Sat, December 22, 2012 by Bill Vogrin with 3 comments

                                                                               UPDATE — UPDATE —- UPDATE

    In 2009, I introduced Side Streets readers to Ron Pace under a headline: “Pace is loose!”

    In the column, I reported that a judge had described him as loud, profane and even annoying.

    But the judge had sided with Pace in his battle over neighborhood covenants and assorted other issues with the Woodmen Hills Metro District, which has been a mess for years with its seemingly constant bickering, infighting, recalls and failed efforts to expand powers and fees.

    At the time, Pace declared he was sick of the fighting. The disabled vet vowed to sell his house on the sixth fairway of the Antlers Creek Golf Course in unincorporated Falcon, northeast of Colorado Springs, and move.

    I figured it would be the end of the story.

    As usual, I was wrong.

    Pace, 48, never did sell.

    Instead, he stayed and remained a vocal critic of Woodmen Hills officials. He fought them over the way they enforce rules, conduct district business and more.

    He probably should have moved. If so, he’d have saved thousands.

    Pace and his wife are facing about $5,000 in legal fees  after he lost a fight over a restraining order filed against him in 2011 by a homeowners association manager who felt threatened by him.

    But that’s only the half of it.

    Pace and his wife again are preparing to go to court  in February over a $50 parking violation issued by the Filing 11 HOA that has ballooned to $4,600.

    “My truck was parked on the side of my house like I’ve parked it since 2006,” Pace said. “They said it was eight to 18 inches past the front corner of our house and that’s not allowed.”

    Seems outrageous to think any HOA would fine someone over such a petty infraction.

    On Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, I heard from a Woodmen Hills Filing 11 HOA official who explained the HOA board’s side of the story.

    Chris Galloway, vice president of the HOA, said the property manager noted the parking violation during a semi-monthly enforcement survey of the neighborhood.

    Galloway said Pace was not singled out and easily could have remedied the violation without any fine.

    “The first time we send a courtesy letter saying please take care of this,” Galloway said. “Then we send a warning letter. Finally, we send a third letter which is a fine ranging from $25 to $50.”

    So how did it reach $4,600?

    Galloway said Pace declined to deal with the HOA management company after his restraining order defeat. Instead, he called the HOA’s attorney directly.

    “They warned him he’d incur attorneys fees personally,” Galloway said. “He circumvented the system.”

    Of course, Pace sees it as a vendatta and, when we spoke in December, he declared: “This is retaliation.” Typically, he barked it, punctuated with profanity.

    It’s this type of gruffness that has made some people who manage Woodmen Hills and serve on its board scared of Pace. They feel threatened by him. And he is prone to making veiled threats.

    In his defense, some HOAs get out of control. Power-hungry board members sometimes punish people they don’t like and, as the judge in 2009 said, Pace isn’t always very likeable.

    Once this latest mess is resolved, he has vowed again to leave.

    “As soon as my kid graduates in the spring, I’m outta here,” he said. “I’ll be happy to leave.”

    For everyone’s sake, I hope so.

    Life is too short to spend it worried whether your truck is parked 18 inches too far from the house.

    Follow this link to my Nov. 18, 2009, column about Ron Pace and Woodmen Hills.

    To read an associated blog post about that column, click here.

    For more information about Woodmen Hills, read this blog.

     

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  • WILL WOODMEN HILLS COVENANTS EVER BE ENFORCED?

    Sun, October 23, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    Woodmen Hills is a subdivision of about 2,200 homes in Falcon, an unincorporated community northeast of Colorado Springs along U.S. Highway 24.

    .

    NO, is the answer to the headline if a determined group of Woodmen Hills residents get their way.

    The Woodmen Hills Metro District wants the El Paso County Commission to give it the authority to enforce covenants in filings 1-10 of the subdivision in unincorporated Falcon, northeast of Colorado Springs.

    Only the 900 homes in filing 11 have a homeowners association enforcing covenants. The other 1,200 homes, in filings 1-10, have covenants attached to their homes but no active HOA to enforce them.

    And that’s the way many seem to like it.

    When the metro district began enforcing them in 2008, resident Chuck Warne led a group of residents who sued to stop.

     

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    A recreation center in Woodmen Hills.

    In May 2009, a district judge slam-dunked the  Metro District.

    Then, in June 2010, the Court of Appeals upheld the judge’s decision.

    Case closed, right? Ha!

    The metro district is determined to get authority to resume policing violations of covenants — rules governing parking, landscaping, fences, trailers and such.

    On Thursday, they tried to convince the El Paso County Commission to give it the authority as part of a new “service plan” it is seeking.

    The proposed service plan also would allow the district to raise its maximum debt authorization to $53 million from its current $16.2 million cap. And it would give the district a maximum mill levy of 60 mills. I found it interesting the covenant issue generated the most controversy.

    Residents lined up to denounce the metro district and its previous efforts at enforcing covenants and to plead with the five commissioners to strip the provision from the service plan.

    Among those testifying was Chuck Warne, who moved to Woodmen Hills in 2003 and sued in 2008 to stop the enforcement.

    “You’ve got a very small group of people trying to impose their will on the majority of people,” Warne said. He said if residents want covenant enforcement, they can do it themselves.

    “It’s up to the residents themselves if they want covenant enforcement,” he said. “They can create an HOA under their home rule powers. We don’t need the Metro District involved. They don’t listen to the people. They don’t care.”

    Larry Bishop

    Before Thursday’s hearing, Metro District manager Larry Bishop said many residents want covenants enforced and his board is responding to that demand.

    “There’s a misunderstanding about whether the metro district is going to become a dictatorship and force covenant enforcement down peoples’ throats,” he said. “Voters will decide. It will be a simple ballot question: Shall covenants be enforced in this filing?”

    I’ve spoken to folks in Woodmen Hills who would welcome the proposed vote in May 2012 and the enforcement of covenants.

    They say there are too many RVs and trailers parked on the streets and other issues.

    But it was enforcement horror stories that got the attention of commissioners Amy Lathen and Darryl Glenn last week.

    “We’ve heard outrageous examples of abuse,” Lathen said, adding that she’s never gotten a request for enforcement from Woodmen Hills residents. “But I’ve heard many complaints.”

    The commission delayed action until December. I’m guessing whatever the decision, the fight will go on.

    Here’s a link to an independent Woodmen Hills Info website.

    To read briefs filed in the appeal, click here.

    Follow this link to the Court of Appeals decision upholding the judge’s decision.

    The attorneys for the metro district wrote this letter explaining their position.

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  • APPARENTLY, COLORADO SPRINGS IS NO OAKLAND!

    Wed, September 21, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    I was having a tough time with this one . . . New York City and even Oakland rank higher than Colorado Springs in walkability.

    Oakland? Really?

    A recent ranking placed Colorado Springs just 34th among large U.S. communities in walkability.

    Whoa! This is where you can get on a trail in Palmer Lake and walk, run or bike 35 miles all the way to Fountain!

     How can we rank behind top-rated New York City in walkability?  New York scores an 85 and the Springs gets a measly 45?

    The Springs has 102-miles of urban trails — and 100 more under development. Are they comparing the Midland Trail to some alley in Queens?

     Even worse, the  top 10 “walkable” cities includes Oakland? Ever try walking around Oakland?

    OMG

    Heck, we have trails that snake from downtown through our neighborhoods to our sprawling suburbs, which cover 200 square miles.

     Bingo!

     As usual, I had stumbled onto the exact point of the walkability ranking by Seattle-based Walk Score without realizing it.

     The ranking is not about places to stroll or bike along scenic streams or through pine-scented forests.

     It scores residents’ ability to do basic errands on foot or bike. The Springs fell in the “car dependent” category. New York, Oakland and the others are in “walker’s paradise.”

    Oakland? Really?

    I guess Oaklanders can easily walk (I’d suggest briskly walking) to the grocery store, pharmacy or, I’m just guessing here, to their self-defense classes.

    The website rewards places where folks can leave their cars parked and get to work and school. Places where you can bank, find day care, get a good meal, exercise or catch a movie.

    Let’s face it, it’s tough to leave your car at home here.

    Walk Score’s Josh Herst encouraged cities to improve their scores.

    In a news release, he said houses in walkable neighborhoods have higher value because of their proximity to amenities.

    Plus, they generate less pollution and boast healthier residents, he said. Folks living in walkable neighborhoods typically weigh eight pounds less than residents of a sprawling suburb, according to his research.

    I checked out Walk Score’s website, www.WalkScore.com. It’s very cool and include rankings of individual neighborhoods.

    Old Colorado City came in first with a 59! Downtown scored a 58. Both are pedestrian-friendly and have lots of public gathering places. They are mixed-use and blend retail, commercial and residential as well as all income levels.

    Falcon ranked last with a score of 5 while upscale Flying Horse scored a 6.

    There’s other good stuff on the site. For example, it has calculators that will show you the mileage and elevation gain on any route you choose. Here’s a look at my bicycle commute from Rockrimmon to downtown.

    But there’s hope for Colorado Springs and its walkability score.

     Ryan Tefertiller, a senior city planner, said recent changes to the downtown zoning encourages “walkability.” And the city would help developers apply walkable concepts in all new neighborhoods.

    “I think the zones make sense in certain areas,” he said. “In theory, I could see one in Old Colorado City, or North Nevada Avenue or South Academy Boulevard. It would make sense.”

    Sounds great. As long as we improve our score without turning us into another Oakland!

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  • NATIONAL NIGHT OUT: Make a friend, protect yourself

    Sun, August 1, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Pop quiz: Name the first line of defense against neighborhood crime.

    Answer: Residents, of course.

    Police constantly urge folks to keep an eye on their neighborhoods.

    Look for suspicious people and vehicles.

    Jot down license plates and descriptions.

    Call police and alert your neighbors.

    When it comes to citizen/police cooperation in crime fighting, Tuesday is the biggest night of the year.

    It’s the annual National Night Out when neighbors are urged to turn on their porch lights, go out and meet their neighbors.

    Dozens of Naitonal Night Out events are planned around Colorado Springs and in the communities surrounding the city from Monument to Black Forest to Falcon to Stratmoor Hills and Security/Widefield.

    Many events involve barbecues and games.

    It’s a great chance to make friends, eat a hot dog or burger, and in many neighborhoods meet and talk to police officers or El Paso County Sheriff’s deputies who attend National Night Out neighborhood events.

    ‘The event has an interesting history and is closely associated with the Neighborhood Watch program and the National Association of Town Watch.

    Check this link for information about Neighborhood Watch from Colorado Springs Police.

    Here’s a good place to start if you want to learn more about the national Neighborhood Watch program.

    I’ve written about Neighborhood Watch in the past. Here’s a link to a previous story and the blog that went with it.

  • ‘GUARD LLAMAS’ AT HEART OF COVENANT DISPUTE?

    Wed, May 5, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with 45 comments

    Prairie Vista Meadows is one of dozens of subdivisions scattered around the outskirts of Colorado Springs in eastern El Paso County

    It’s just 63 lots, carved out of former ranchland, where folks trying to get away from the city go and buy five-acre ranchettes

    Sometimes, they envision themselves as gentlemen farmers, with a horse or a cow or maybe another farm animal or two. 

     

    One of the big selling points is the spectacular views they enjoy of Pikes Peak and the Front Range from their vantage 10 miles or more from downtown Springs. 

    But folks trying to get away from the city sometimes take their issues with them to the countryside. 

     That’s the case at Prairie Vista Meadows where a couple homeowners are complaining about the homeowners association, covenants and architectural control committee governing life in the subdivision. 

    They are angry that the rules limit the number and types of farm animals to just two horses or cows. 

    Homeowner Chris Meier wanted a llama to guard his two cows from coyotes that roam the plains. And a goat would be nice. Or maybe some chickens. He wants his eight children involved in 4H programs and that might mean raising any variety of barnyard animals. 

    Neighbor Shannon Rogers wanted a third horse to go with her original two.  And maybe a horse arena. And she wants to store a trailer behind a screen of Blue Spruce trees.

    Noreen and Craig McConnell

    Both said they were misled by developer Craig McConnell to believe the HOA would be relaxed and willing to waive covenants and let them bend the rules. 

    McConnell sells real estate with his wife, Noreen, through Avalar Real Estate Solutions in Falcon

    McConnell said they misunderstood. He said the rules are the rules. Most of the 24 homeowners in Prairie Vista Meadows like the rules and want them enforced. He said five-acre lots are not big enough to allow many animals. 

    Here is a look at the subdivision from the El Paso County Assessor’s website: 

     McConnell said he’s trying to maintain the quality of the development by enforcing the covenants. He accuses Meier of wanting to take control of the HOA and rewrite the covenants to suit his lifestyle. 

    He says Meier has been out of compliance with covenants since he moved in last June for failing to paint his barn and for not screening his RV behind a fence or in a building, as rules require. 

    Meier counters that he likes the covenants and simply wants residents of the neighborhood to control the HOA, not a developer and his partners who don’t live in Prairie Vista Meadows. 

    The moral of the story is a classic: read everything before you buy and get all promises in writing. 

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  • LOUD, PROFANE, ANNOYING . . . welcome to public service

    Wed, November 18, 2009 by Bill Vogrin with 4 comments

    The Woodmen Hills Metropolitan District in Falcon, northeast of Colorado Springs, is one of those planned communities where residents get all sorts of amenities.

    woodmenhillsflag

    The 2,400 homeowners get to enjoy 63 acres of open space, miles of trails, two recreation centers with indoor and outdoor pools, exercise facilities, playgrounds, meeting rooms and more. Here’s a map of the district’s trails and recreational facilities.

    The district also provides water, sewer and streetlight services to the community. And it employs a staff of about 15 to maintain the community, which is protected by covenants.

     woodmenhillsflash1

     

    In addition to the staff, the district has a five-member board to oversee the district. They are homeowners are elected by the neighborhood.

    As with any homeowners association or neighborhood board, there is conflict.

    About a year ago, the board found itself in conflict with Ron Pace,  a 45-year-old disabled veteran who moved to Woodmen Hills in 2006.

    Pace heard stories about over-paid staff and got upset when water rates started going up. He started asking questions about the budget and salaries and covenant enforcement. Board members and staff didn’t like the way he asked his questions. They found him threatening. In fact, they accused him of threatening to “blow people away” with an AK-47.

    Things distintigrated. Here’s a story The Gazette wrote in June 2009 about the conflict. Residents took sides. There were dualing Web sites created to argue the issues. Pace had one site and an ally built another.

     Pace admits he gets on peoples’ nerves. He is from the East Coast and he comes across more loud, profane and abrasive than folks in the West may be used to, he says. But he says he never threatened anyone and would never hurt anyone.

     El Paso County Magistrate Robin Chittum believes him.

     She found him loud, often inappropriate and annoying. But, as she said, welcome to public service.  If you don’t want to deal with people like Pace, don’t run for office.

     In fact, after what may be the longest trial in Colorado history regarding civil protection orders, Chittum dismissed the complaints against Pace, giving him freedom to again go anywhere in the district, attend board meetings, view records, approach staff and board members.

    Here’s how pace-press-release described the magistrate’s decision.

    And this is a news release from the Woodmen Hills Metro District responding to it: (more…)