2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • CAN NEIGHBORS TALK? SOME LAWMAKERS SAY NO

    Thu, March 7, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Can we talk? Just us neighbors?

    Maybe to organize to fight a commercial development on vacant land.

    Or to get City Hall to listen to our concerns about traffic.

    Or to preserve the character of our unique neighborhood.

    Some on the Colorado Springs City Council and the Planning Commission say no. You can’t talk. They won’t grant you permission to talk.

    Dave Munger in 2011

    Dave Munger in 2011

    No kidding. I heard it myself.

    The idea that some in Colorado Springs government would dismiss groups of neighbors who organize informally and approach their elected leaders is troubling to the city’s top neighborhood activist, Dave Munger, president of the Council of Neighbors & Organizations.

    Munger was puzzled the first time it happened in January when the Planning Commission rejected a request by the Rawles Open Space Neighborhood to initiate a city-sponsored conversation about creating a master plan for 38 large properties along Mesa Road on the city’s west side.

    The commission voted 6-3 to deny neighbors the right to talk, demanding the group get agreement from 100 percent of the property owners before having a conversation. It didn’t matter the city code doesn’t require unanimous agreement before a master plan conversation can begin.

    Then similar comments were made last week during the City Council meeting. (You can watch the three-hour City Council debate at this link. Selected Item 14 for viewing.)

    The Rawles neighborhood leaders presented signatures of 26 homeowners who all want to discuss a master plan. It was not 100 percent but it was near 75 percent agreement.

    Janet Suthers

    Janet Suthers

    (Janet Suthers, the commission chairwoman, told the City Council during its hearing that her panel really only wanted two-thirds agreement, even though it repeatedly insisted on unanimous agreement.)

    Suthers and commission member Don Magill tried to explain to the council that the issue wasn’t about basic democracy and the right to congregate and self-govern, as Munger had tried to argue.

    Suthers and Magill said the issue was property rights. And a simple conversation about a master plan, which would declare the neighborhood’s desires to preserve a rural character and open development style, was too dangerous to allow.

    Don Magill

    Don Magill

    That attitude won agreement from three on City Council, including Angela Dougan who wanted to know who had elected the 26 Rawles neighbors to speak for all 38 property owners.

    “You have no documentation,” Dougan told Rawles spokesman James Kin. Dougan then tried to discredit Kin and his group by suggesting they were no more legitimate than if she and Councilman Merv Bennett went to a hotel and represented themselves as a married couple.

    Nervous laughter erupted on the council. But Munger wasn’t laughing at efforts to knock down the Rawles group because he passionately believes neighborhood groups, no matter how informally organized, ought to be respected and encouraged to get together and talk.

    “Democracy ought to be the over-arching goal here,” Munger said. “We ought to be empowering people to have a voice over their own lives.

    “If we’re not willing to give people the voice they deserve, we need to rethink our priorities.”

    Of course, Munger was buoyed by the final City Council vote, 5-3, to allow the master plan process to begin. And he said he would never advocate letting a majority of neighbors trample the property rights of the minority. Nor would city staff, the commission or council, all of whom must approve any master plan before it is enacted, Munger said.

    “There will be lots of opportunities for us to defend those who don’t agree with the majority,” Munger said. “Our history as a city is pretty clear. We’ve always encouraged neighborhoods to have conversations and speak for themselves and decide what their neighborhood ought to look like.

    “I’m not sure why anyone would oppose the idea of a conversation.”

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  • PARDNER, YOU BET WE STILL HONOR OUR OLD WEST ROOTS

    Sat, February 23, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Pinello Cemetery 001 .

    Ben Pinello Jr. just proved there’s still a little of the Old West left in Colorado Springs.

    On Thursday, Pinello won approval from the Planning Commission to put a small family cemetery within his 40-acre Pinello Ranch southwest of downtown.

    Ben Pinello Jr. on his ranch

    Ben Pinello Jr. on his ranch

    The ranch is in a wooded valley sliced by Bear Creek and home to wildlife and panoramic views of mountains including the granite outcroppings along nearby Gold Camp Road.

    He plans to build a fence — maybe white-picket or wrought iron  — around a 25-foot-by-40-foot parcel.

    There, amid scrub oak and cottonwood and locust trees just a few dozen feet from the creek, the 80-year-old Pinello intends to spend eternity with his wife, Vira.

    Pinello Cemetery 016.

    Maybe some day they’ll be joined by their son and three daughters and their families. Maybe not. That’s up to them, he said.

    Pinello just wanted to make sure he’d be allowed to remain on the land where he ran cattle and raised kids since buying the place at auction in 1962 after coming home from serving in the Marines.

    “Darn right,” he said. “We’ve got to have a little of the Old West left in us. And I am happy”

    In the old days, folks were buried on their land. Pinello, being an old cowboy, felt the same way.

    “I want to be here,” he said. “I’ve been here over 50 years. It’s a nice piece of property and you kind of fall in love with it.”

    It’s where he belongs.

    Pinello Family Cem map.

    But I was worried when I heard he needed city permission for a cemetery.

    After all, zoning codes are stubborn things. And neighbors can be prickly about having things like convenience stores within shouting distance.

    I feared urban Colorado Springs would clash with our Old West roots.

    Luckily, city codes never anticipated a request for a cemetery so planner Erin McCauley was in virgin territory as she researched Pinello’s request for a conditional use permit.

    “I learned Colorado is the only state that allows private individuals to act as a funeral director,” McCauley said. “And I learned any burial on private land has to be located by a GPS as part of Colorado law..

    “You have to get the latitude and longitude and record it with the county.”

    That makes sense. Some road project might come along and threaten to disturb Pinello’s sleep. Best to get it on a map.

    Pinello Family plot 2.

    Finding no opposition, McCauley approved it.

    So why a cemetery now?

    Pinello had a cancer scare a few years ago. He wanted to know where he’d be buried.

    “I guess it is comforting,” he said. “The whole family is happy we got it.”

    I wondered what he’d have done if the city had refused his request.

    Pinello’s answer was exactly what I’d expect from a cowboy.

    “We’d have done it at midnight,” he said with a laugh

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  • SHOWDOWN FOR TOO TALL TOWNHOMES

    Sat, February 9, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with 2 comments

    Single-familiy homes on Whereabout Court are dwarfed by the Dublin Terrace Townhomes behind them. The townhomes were built contrary to approved plans with larger-than-permitted buildings because the developer was trying to provide unobstructed views to potential buyers.

    Will the “Too Tall Townhomes” finally get knocked down to size?

    Or just knocked down?

    Or will they remain abandoned, inflicting financial and visual pain on the surrounding neighbors?

    It’s been almost a year since questions over the size of three new buildings in the Dublin Terrace Townhomes complex erupted, even prompting Mayor Steve Bach to personally inspect the northeast Colorado Springs complex.

    The city says the developer of the Dublin Terrace Townhomes raised the grade and built structures not approved for the site, contrary to the development plan.

    The controversy eventually resulted in the bankruptcy of the developer Todays Homes and its parent company, Unity Builders Group of Calgary, Canada. And it threw into limbo 10 units — seven in two buildings that are finished and furnished and ready for sale and three units in one building with no roof.

    In January, city planners rejected a request from the court-appointed receiver to allow the buildings to remain, as-is, with additional landscaping to buffer the neighbors’ view.

    Planner Rick O’Connor’s rejection set up a showdown on Feb. 21 when an appeal is to be heard before the Colorado Springs Planning Commission.

    Seven townhomes in two buildings are finished and furnished and ready for sale. But three units in a third building are in the early stage of construction. The building doesn’t even have a roof and weather is rotting the wood.

    An attorney for the receiver, Andrew Checkley of MLP Receiverships in St. Louis, responded in documents that moving the buildings or demolishing them are not viable options for Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank, one of the nation’s largest banks, which owns the loans and is facing claims exceeding $1 million, including mechanic liens.

    In the documents, the receiver continued a year-long debate over the height issue, arguing the city has wrongly assessed the height. The receiver insists the buildings are just four feet higher than allowed, not upwards of 11 feet as the city claims.

    Side by Side Drawings

    And Checkley raises the possibility that PNC might simply walk away, leaving the buildings to rot, unless the city agrees to let them stay.

    “(PNC) has no obligation to foreclose or to take ownership of the property,” Checkley wrote. “This is the worst-case scenario for all parties involved. Unfortunately, given the finances of the project . . . and the competing demands of the interested parties, it may be the most likely scenario.”

    Checkley warns that vacant and abandoned buildings erode property values, reduce the city tax base, anger neighbors and “may attract irresponsible social activity.”

    Quite a scare tactic. It’s one voiced months ago by Todays Homes and now by Checkley and it has the attention of neighbors who are angry at the suggestion and fear being steamrolled by bureaucrats who don’t care about the neighbors.

    “They don’t care about anybody but the bank,” said Bill Sheridan, whose single-family home on Whereabout Court, just across the fence, is dwarfed by the Too Talls.

    Bill Sheridan, left, and Tom Fendon survey the Too Tall Townhomes in this September 2012 photo. They and dozens of other neighbors stand to lose thousands in equity in their homes as the buildings rot in bankruptcy.

    Similar frustration is felt by Tom Fendon, who lives in a Dublin Terrace Townhome in one of the 56 units in about 15 completed and occupied buildings in the complex.

    “It doesn’t get any better,” Fendon said. “It doesn’t look good as far as getting this taken care of. Meanwhile, all the people here are losing money as far as property values go.”

    Of course, their positions reflect how hard this problem is to fix.

    Sheridan is adamant the Too Talls must come down, insisting property values of the homes on his street all suffered when the behemoths went up.

    Fendon, however, said its his neighbors in the other townhomes who are suffering the most.

    “Most of us are under water,” he said. “This affects 51 townhome owners. We can’t sell because everything has stopped. There are only eight or nine homes across the fence affected by this.”

    Deciding what happens next isn’t the only question Fendon wants answered. He still wants someone held accountable at City Hall.

    “I walk through the community and ask myself the same question,” Fendon said. “Why was this allowed?

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  • RAWLES SLAPPED DOWN IN BID TO TALK MASTER PLAN

    Sat, January 26, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    This was the view of the Rawles Open Space along the 1500 block of Mesa Road in the 1940s. Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer reportedly rode his horse along this route from Glen Eyrie to get downtown. Courtesy Pikes Peak Library District Special Collections.

    In 2009, neighborhood advocate Dave Munger asked the Colorado Springs City Council a simple question: What is a neighborhood and who decides?

    The council gave an emphatic answer: Size doesn’t matter when it comes to protecting the character of neighborhoods. Tiny pockets of homes, including the westside Rawles Open Space Neighborhood along Mesa Road, can organize even though they are covered by a larger association because they boast unique character and deserve individual recognition. Follow this link to my May 3, 2009, column about the Rawles Open Space Neighborhood.

    Neighborhood advocate Dave Munger, president of the Council of Neighbors & Organizations, testifies Jan. 17, 2013, before the Colorado Springs Planning Commission in a screen capture from video.

    The council’s declaration was significant because it shielded the rustic Rawles neighborhood, where houses are scattered on large lots without curbs and gutters and even sewers, from a modern, five-house subdivision proposed on five acres in the area. Here’s a link to the follow-up blog I wrote on Nov. 8, 2009.

    That history seemed lost on the city Planning Commission last week when the panel voted to reject a request by the same Rawles group for permission to draft a master plan. It would cover 38 properties on 85 acres within the larger Mesa neighborhood.

    A master plan, if approved by the planning commission and council, would guide future development in the neighborhood. It might call for houses to be built farther back from the road than required by city codes, or seek to impose stricter height restrictions and other rules for construction.

    The planning commission decided to stop the conversation before it could even get started. To watch the two-hour hearing on the issue, click this link.

    Real estate attorney James Kin, a leader of the Rawles Open Space Neighborhood, testifies Jan. 17, 2013, before the Colorado Springs Planning Commission in a screen capture from video.

    Several commissioners challenged the validity of the Rawles group, despite its high-profile recognition by the council. And several flatly rejected the assertion it counts 75 percent of the homeowners among its members, as stated by group leader James Kin, a prominent real estate attorney who has served on similar city commissions.

    Commissioner Jeff Markewich put it bluntly: “Other than Mr. Kin’s word, I haven’t seen evidence the organization really represents the neighborhood . . . I just don’t see any evidence that this neighborhood organization really is representative of the vast majority of people in the neighborhood.”

    Ouch.

    Munger, president of the Council of Neighbors & Organizations, or CONO, tried to persuade the panel to let the master plan conversation occur so the neighbors can try to draft a plan.

    “In our view, neighborhoods are one of the basic ways in which we, as a community, exercise and conduct democracy,” he said. “It’s the basic way we come together to solve problems. One thing CONO tries hard to do is to encourage neighborhood discussion of important issues.

    “We would view this draft plan as the beginning of that discussion.”

    Colorado Springs Planning Commissioner Don Magill gestures as he pointedly questions attorney James Kin about the Rawles Open Space Neighborhood in testimony Jan. 17, 2013, in a screen capture from video.

    But Commissioner Don Magill took offense at Munger’s suggestion, snapping: “You just gave us a lecture on how we should deal with this. Thank you.”

    Commissioners repeatedly questioned Kin, Munger and others about how the Rawles group, or any neighborhood group, gets officially recognized. Who at the city, one asked, certifies a neighborhood association? What are the criteria?

    Clearly the commission was trying to discredit Kin’s group as not a credible association. And several accused Kin and his group of having a hidden agenda.

    “This is actually an attempt to get control of somebody else’s property through a kind of esoteric, indirect fashion,” said Commissioner Robert Shonkwiler.

    The majority didn’t seem to care that master plans are a common tool for preserving the character of a neighborhood and routinely written by developers, the city and even, in rare instances, neighborhoods themselves.

    Most baffling to Kin, Munger and others was the insistence by the commission that 100 percent of the 38 property owners agree to the master plan process.

    Kim insisted the commission didn’t have legal authority to demand unanimous approval of the neighborhood to simply draft a proposed plan.

    “Not only do we believe the code does not allow you to add additional requirements such as 100 percent participation, but we also don’t believe it is good governance,” Kin said.

    Magill fired back.

    “That’s what I want to do,” he said, pointing at Kin. “That’s what we’re saying. That’s what we want to do.”

    And Munger noted the 75 percent agreement was more than the super majority vote needed to pass laws, overturn a veto or amend neighborhood covenants in most homeowners associations.

    But the majority on the commission was unswayed. Magill said to simply allow the discussion would give sanction to the group and tacit approval to its master plan.

    “To approve you to go forward with a master plan opens Pandora’s box,” Magill said.

    Now, the council will get a chance to decide because the Rawles group has appealed the commission’s rejection, Kin said Friday.

    He acknowledges he probably angered some on the commission by drafting a proposed master plan and passing it around the neighborhood prior to getting commission approval. And he denies the group tried to bully folks who recently bought vacant lots in the neighborhood, as was suggested.

    “We have a unique little stretch and we think it’s worth preserving,” Kin said. “I hope they (the council) will be open-minded.

    A 2009 view of the Rawles Open Space, a 7.6-acre tract named for the former owners of the property. It was deeded to the Palmer Land Trust for preservation. Another 19-acre tract nearby also is owned by the Trust, which works to secure conservation easements to preserve undeveloped land. The 38 homes sprinkled amid the open space adopted its name.

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  • BONNYVILLE ought to be Bobsieville!

    Wed, November 11, 2009 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Meet Florence “Bobsie” Pachak, the unofficial queen of Bonnyville.

    bobsiepachak4

    I am crowning her queen of the little neighborhood of about 325 homes north of downtown Colorado Springs. Who else? She’s one of the original residents of the neighborhood.

    Bobsie and her husband, Walter, bought their home in July 1948. She has lived there ever since! That’s 61 years watching Colorado Springs grow from a small resort and military town into a city that ranks about 50th in size in U.S.

    bonnyville

    Heck, I think we ought to start calling it “Bobsieville.”

    Bonnyville has an interesting history. Pachak lived it all, but she was busy raising six children and didn’t recall much of it. So, as  a gift for Pachak on her 90th birthday on Nov. 12,  neighbor Joyce Dearing put together a history book for her, to remind her of all she had witnessed.

    Bonnyville was developed by John Bonforte, who had a fiery relationship with the Colorado Springs City Council and Planning Commission. Below is how it looked from the air in an old newspaper clipping.

    The view is to the southwest. The Santa Fe Railroad tracks are visible running at a diaganol from upper left to lower right. In the foreground is the Templeton Gap and the Rock Island Railroad lines:

    bonnyvilleaerial1949

    The Bon Shopping Center was built soon after the houses.

    bonshoppingcenterThe Bon Shopping Center is considered the area’s first suburban shopping center when it opened in 1953 at the north end of Wahsatch Avenue.  

    bonscsign

    A story in The Gazette Telegraph marveled at the “ultra-modern” look of the city’s first strip mall.

    It still boasts the original sign, which reflects the “ultra modern” design of the center.

    The shopping center has always been an integral part of the neighborhood.

    Originally, a Safeway store stood on the far north end of the center in a space now occupied by an Ent Federal Credit Union office.

    Over the years, Safeway moved to the south end of the center and expanded. It was that expansion that led Pachak to become a neighborhood activist.

    She said Safeway wanted to buy four houses, including her house, and tear them down to allow a larger building. She and other homeowners resisted. Eventually, two homeowners sold out.

    The Pachak worked to limit Safeway’s expansion because she feared truck traffic would endanger neighbors. In fact, her car has been struck seven times parked outside her home.

    But, ironically, the expansion came to benefit her family. First, Walter, a carpenter, was hired to build the project. And now, decades later, she likes having the store so close.

    Bonnyville has mostly been a quiet neighborhood of modest homes. But it has had its share of excitement and been home to a few folks who would go onto to become famous.

    For example, Bonnyville found itself in the newspaper headlines in November  1948 when a B-29 Superfortress crashed and burned just north of the Patty Jewett Golf Course.

    bonnyvilleplanecrash

     It had just taken off from Peterson Field – now Peterson Air Force Base —  headed for Smoky Hill Air Base in Salina, Kan., according to the Nov. 5, 1948, Gazette Telegraph report.

    The story said the No. 4 engine went out, and the No. 3 engine caught fire.

    The newspaper reported: “Eyewitnesses to the crash said the burning ship was headed directly for the Bonnyville subdivision at a very low altitude.”

    Unable to turn the plane around, the pilot, Capt. E.J. Cook, instead guided the plane away from Bonnyville to open fields near Patty Jewett Golf Course for an emergency landing.

    The burning airplane first struck the ground just east of the golf club, where leaking gasoline started a brush fire. Then it “cut a path 300 yards long, ripping down barbed wire fences and bouncing over several gullies before coming to a stop without nosing over.”

    leonyoung The late Leon Young, left, longtime Coloardo Springs City Council member who, for three months in 1997 served as the city’s first black mayor, had this recollection of Bonnyville in a 1993 interview:
    “I came back from the Navy, and in 1947 I wanted to buy a house. The first veterans housing project, Bonnyville, had a big sign saying `GIs $250 down.’ I went up to the trailer there and the man asked me what I wanted. I said, `I’m a veteran. I want to buy a house.’ He said, `We’re building houses for veterans, but not for you.’ I was turned down for two FHA loans and by that time I had saved $3,000 down.”

    While Bonnyville lost the chance to host Young, it was the home for several years of Harry Hoth, a co-ounder of the Bonnyville Improvement Association, who became owner of Pikes Peak Broadcasting Co. and its KRDO TV and radio stations.

    harryhothHoth, left, used the neighborhood association as a springboard to the City Planning Commission, on which he served in1951-62; then to the City Council in 1959-67 and finally served as mayor of Colorado Springs in 1963-67.

    .

    And Bonnyville was the inspiration for perhaps the most popular comic strip in history.

    .

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    schulzcharlieborwnIn 1951, cartoonist Charles Schulz spent a year living in Bonnyville while his comic strip, “Peanuts” featuring  Charlie Brown, left, made short-lived debuts in seven newspapers. Two decade later it was featured in 2,200 newspapers reaching 200 million readers in 68 countries.

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  • DEVELOP OR PRESERVE?

    Sun, April 26, 2009 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Folks in the Ralwes Open Space Neighborhood want the Colorado Springs City Council to decide if the policy to encourage “infill” development has any limits.

    rawlestwitter

    At Tuesday’s council meeting, they will ask the council to reject plans for the Horizon View subdivision. They argue the projec tis incompatible with the neighborhood, which sits along Mesa Road between Fillmore and Uintah streets.

    rawlesmap

     kristinehembre 

    Kristine Hembre, left, an allergy doctor, bought the five-acre property in 2006 and made plans, through her Elle Development Co., to tear down the existing house and replace it with five new houses on a modern cul de sac with a paved street, curbs and gutters, sidewalks and sewers.

     

     

    Such amenities are unusual along that stretch of Mesa, where residents take pride in the rural feel of things. They don’t have curbs, gutters and sidewalks or paved driveways or even city sewer service. Here’s a look at the area from www.FlashEarth.com:

    rawlesflash

    Rawles residents boast that they have preserved their area so well that Springs founder Gen William Jackson Palmer might still recognize it, a century after his death. According to legend, Palmer rode Mesa to get from his Glen Eyrie castle to Colorado Springs.

     rawleshistoricphotoBelow is a page submitted by one of the neighbors:

     

    So they are fighting the project on the basis that large homes on 20,000-square-foot lots would be incompatible with the surrounding rural feel of the neighborhood.

     Here’s a look at preliminary blueprints filed with the city:

    rawlesblueprint

    The Colorado Springs Planning Commission gave the plan unanimous approval because it meets zoning and other requirements. And planners reason that it is exactly the kind of project the City Council wanted to encourage when it established a policy to encourage “infill” development.

    The idea is for developers to look for vacant  land within established neighborhoods where houses or apartments can be built, rather than automatically building new subdivisions farther and farther out on the eastern edge of the city.

     But Rawles neighborhood leaders said the council should care about preserving the character of older neighborhoods.

    You can read the entire file and see more blueprints here.

    Here’s a closer look from FlashEarth at the property:

     rawlesflash21

     

    The Rawles Open Space is a 7.6-acre tract named for the former owners of the property. It was deeded to the Palmer Land Trust to preserve it. Another 19-acre tract nearby also is owned by the Trust, which works to secure conservation easements to preserve undeveloped land. Read about the Palmer Land Trust.

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  • I’LL BE YOUR ROUNDABOUT

    Wed, September 17, 2008 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

                                           

    Apologies to the rock band Yes and its popular 1971 album Fragile and hit Roundabout. But if Colorado College gets its way, motorists will be rockin’ and rollin’ along Cascade Avenue when they hit four proposed roundabouts between Boulder and Jackson streets.

    The city planning staff has approved the idea, at least as an experiment, and now it’s off to Colorado Springs Planning Commission and, eventually. the City Council.

    The changes to Cascade are part of a sweeping revision the college has proposed to its master plan.

    Here is a look at the long range master plan proposed by CC: Colorado College Long Range Development Plan

    And here is the college’s response to initial city planning objections to the plan: Colorado College Response

    Lots of good maps and stuff in those.

    Here are some of the maps you will find. This is an overview of the campus and what the college considers its redevelopment potential:

    This map shows the college transportation plan with the straightening of Glen Avenue south of Uintah Street on the far west edge of campus, the opening of access to the residence hall parking complex south of Uintah at Wood Avenue and the installation of roundabouts on Cascade, among other changes.

    The map below shows the various land uses on campus:

    Here is the first phase of construction proposed by the college:

    Below is the plan with all three phases:

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