2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

    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.”


    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.



    Sun, December 4, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    For years, the intersection at Powers Boulevard and Old Ranch Road has been one of the most dangerous in Colorado Springs.

    It’s on the far north edge of the city and it’s important because hundreds of students, parents and staff drive it each day — some kids even walk it, imagine that —getting to and from Pine Creek High School on the east side of Powers.


    But it’s an oddball arrangement where cars roaring along Powers at warp speeds actually are traveling on pavement that someday will be exit and entrance ramps on a full-blown highway interchange.

    Eventually, Powers will travel under Old Ranch, once a bridge is built to carry the road.

    Similar intersections exist on Powers at Union Boulevard and Briargate Parkway.

    The exit ramp design has created a fractured intersection resulting in a lot of fractured cars.


    Old Ranch has seen assorted roll-overs, T-bones and collisions with poles.

    There was another last week. Maybe you saw the headline. A car spectacularly rolled and smashed two utility poles. The driver, Sherry Parker, 49, of Falcon, suffered serious injuries.

    It was the latest of 37 wrecks reported at the intersection in three years. Of those, 17 were “right-angle” wrecks, known as T-bones.

    Many blame motorists on Powers for all the wrecks and say speeds need to be lowered and bridges built to end the carnage.





















    I called Dave Krauth, the city’s traffic engineer.

    First the good news.

    Krauth says construction will begin this spring, perhaps as early as April, on the bridges. The Colorado Department of Transportation agrees the intersections are dangerous and must be fixed. CDOT has appropropriated $9 million and hired a contractor to start construction.

    The bad news, it’s unclear exactly when the bridge at Old Ranch will start.

    Courtesy Google Earth

    At Union and Briargate, the bridges will carry Powers over the city streets, which will remain open as construction goes on around them.

    But because a bridge is needed to carry Old Ranch, there may be a significant delay in construction.

    “We’re not sure how they’ll be able to maintain traffic on Old Ranch,” Krauth said. “There’s really no good detour.”

    After the work starts, it may be 18 months before everything is done.

    As for speed limits on Powers, Krauth is not inclined to lower them.

    “The truth is, all but four of the 17 right-angle wrecks were caused by drivers on Old Ranch,” Krauth said. “Not Powers.”

    He said most of the wrecks could be easily avoided.

    “People need to stop running red lights,” he said. “It’s that simple. Red means red. Red means stop.

    “They need to start obeying the traffic lights.”

    Maybe we should put some red-light cameras at the intersection. I believe there’s a few spare cameras available!



    Wed, March 17, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    And now, more and more of those signs are using Light-Emitting Diodes or LEDs.


    LEDs are super-bright electronic lights.


     Imagine thousands of the brilliant little suckers flashing messages on a 30-foot-tall billboard outside your bedroom window.


    That’s happening all around the Colorado Springs region: in Security; on Austin Bluffs Parkway near Barnes Road; along U.S. Highway 24 near Petersen Road; and on Powers Boulevard near Galley Road.

    All five signs are owned by Lamar Outdoor Advertising, which spent upwards of $250,000 apiece for the boards.

    Here’s a photo of a two-sided board on Austin Bluffs, towering over the Fabulous TNT’s strip club:

    Neighbors are divided over the LED boards. Some hate the blinking every six seconds as the message changes. Others accept them, grudgingly, as a fact of life.

    Here’s a look at one that stands along South Academy Boulevard, in near Bradley Road, in Security. Folks living in modest houses amid the trees behind the storage warehouses are not thrilled with the sign.

     Lamar  owns an estimated 150,000 billboards in 44 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Of its inventory, about 250 are LEDs.

    Advertisers love them because motorists can’t ignore them. They can be networked nationwide. The message can be changed instantly for a single-day promotion. All with just a computer keystroke.

    But more cities are banning them because they pose a danger to motorists, who can’t ignore them. And folks living near them object to the bright, blinking signs.

    Critics include Scenic Colorado and the Council of Neighbors & Associations.

    Denver and Colorado Springs don’t allow them. But they were permitted in El Paso County last year after a staff review.

    Here’s a link to the 68-page report prepared for the El Paso County Commission on billboards in the county.

    Screen Magazine  describes LEDS as an efficient, effective and ultrabright alternative to incandescent light bulbs.

    A light emitting diode (LED) is an electronic light source. The first LED was built in the 1920s by a radio technician who noticed that diodes used in radio receivers emitted light when current was passed through them.

     The LED was introduced as a practical electronic component in 1962 (See Wikipedia). LEDs are considered more energy efficient and require less maintenance than traditional lighting. They also boast a life of about 50,000 hours–more than five years!

    If you’ve been to Freemont Street, seen below, in Las Vegas or Times Square in New York City, you’ve seen LEDs in all their glory.


    These new billboards are light-years away the original billboards in the 1830s which advertised: “The circus is coming to town,” according to a history written by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America Inc.

    Electronic digital billboards go back about 10 years, again according to OAAA.

    Of the 450,000 billboards nationwide, about 2,000 are LEDs but the inventory is growing by the hundreds every year.

    The signs cost upwards of $250,000 or more, compared to $5,000 to $50,000 for a traditional billboard.



    Sun, March 7, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity is celebrating its 100th!

    Not anniversary. It’s 100th house in Colorado Springs.

    That’s 100 affordable houses for the working poor.


















    Habitat opened its Pikes Peak-area operations in 1986.

    Over the next 11 years it built 25 houses, relying on an all-volunteer staff and an annual budget of less than $100,000.

    In 1997, Habitat hired Paul Johnson as its executive director and its first paid employee.


    Paul Johnson, executive director of Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity

    Johnson has overseen sweeping changes in the nonprofit organization’s operations. 

    He added a handful of professionals who found sponsors and contributors as well as scouting out properties to rehab, vacant lots to build on and families to buy them.

    As the inventory of single lots in Colorado Springs disappeared, Johnson and Habitat turned to larger pieces of property for construction. The first was a 1.3-acre parcel in the Mill Street neighborhood south of downtown.

    Habitat achieved savings by clustering its projects. It could move from house-to-house quicker. Plus it could rent one portable potty and rolling trash dumper among other savings.

    Then it bought 10 acres near Woodmen Road and Powers Boulevard and launched Woodmen Vistas subsdivision.









    Habitat is building 36 homes there and its partner, Rocky Mountain Community Land Trust is building 31 more.



    The first house built by Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity in its 10-acre Woodmen Vistas subdivision

    So far, Habitat has built a dozen. 



    The 100th house will be the lucky 13th and two or three more are poised to start soon.



     In fact, Habitat is having a groundbreaking ceremony at 3 p.m., on Wednesday, March 10.

    Everyone is invited.

    The ceremony will feature My Tien Truong and her family, who will help build the house and then move in when it is completed in about six months. They will pay off their zero interest loan to Habitat over 30 years.

    Here’s a story I wrote about the project in September 2007.


  • SKI LANE — rural/urban conflict at its worst

    Sun, December 6, 2009 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

     Cumbre Vista is a new subdivision, recently annexed onto the northeast edge of Colorado Springs, where about 60 new houses have been built along with streets, curbs and sidewalks, a neighborhood park with gazebo and ballfield.






     Below is a map of the subdivision from the El Paso County Assessor’s Website. The dark areas on map are part of Colorado Springs. The white areas are part of unincorporated El Paso County.


     The new neighborhood looks like many others scattered around Colorado Springs with one exception. It features a 12-foot cliff.

     The cliff was built by developer Infinity Land Corp. when it decided to obliterate Ski Lane, a country road that existed since 1956.

     There is a legal question whether it was a deeded right-of-way or simple easement.

    Here’s how Ski Lane looked before it was destroyed. The lane ran left to right, atop the little hill in this view facing west. The gravel road coming toward the camera on the left was Sorpresa Lane. The gravel road on the right was created by construction of Cumbre Vista.


     Here’s how it looked after construction began. The developer simply cut down the hill, leaving Ski Lane hanging.


      The cliff made it virtually impossible for the handful of county residents who live on the south end of Ski Lane to use their historic northern route out of the neighborhood toward Black Forest.

     In fact, it took intervention by City Planner Larry Larsen to get the ugly hairpin curve built at the base and side of the cliff, to restore a reasonable access to Ski Lane.

     Here’s the ugly “solution” to the cliff. Larsen said it was the best the city could do given the lack of cooperation from the two sides.


      Here’s a link to a blog I wrote about the mess in October 2008.

      The cliff and the hairpin curve are considered temporary. Eventually, Ski Lane will be lowered to link to the new subdivision streets. The only question seems to be when it will occur. Eventually, all the unincorporated land around Ski Lane will be developed and swallowed by the city.

     Will the residents have to live with it until they die or move? Or will a pending lawsuit force the developer and Woodmen Heights Metro District to compensate them for their loss?

     They are gambling on the court but don’t want Colorado Springs City Hall to jeopardize their chances by accepting Cumbre Vista officially from the developer. They fear the court would view that action as approval of the way they were treated.

     They made those arguments a few weeks ago before the Colorado Springs Planning Commission. Commissioners took turns criticizing the way neighbors were treated. But ultimately they approved the plat, calling it a private legal matter.

     To get in and out of Ski Lane, residents must negotiate an ugly, eroding hairpin curve onto Sorpresa Lane and go through Cumbre Vista, which sits on 115 acres south of Cottonwood Creek near Woodmen Road and Powers Boulevard.

     The neighbors’ effort is being led by Bill and Maureen Marchant. In their lawsuit, the neighbors say they have a deeded right of way that dates to 1956 which guarantees them northern access route. They say the developer cannot simply move or eliminate that right-of-way.

     A few weeks ago they went before the Colorado Springs Planning Commission urging them not to approve the plat. Neighbors planned to appeal to the City Council on Tuesday. But late last week Larsen withdrew his approval of the plat, citing an issue with the deed. Maybe there’s still time for the district to settle the issue and turn the ski jump back into country lane.

     I’m guessing resolution will involve checks to residents with several zeroes on the end. Or Cumbre Vista will feature a cliff that may make residents wonder what kind of subdivision they really live in.

  • TRAFFIC CONCERNS in Rockrimmon and Wagon Trails

    Sun, October 4, 2009 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    ============ UPDATE   BELOW –  UPDATE BELOW ============

    Remember the smashing fences in Rockrimmon? You know, the folks who live at the bottom of the hill where Vindicator Drive meets Rockrimmon Boulevard? They’ve lived with cars crashing into their yards for years.

    Below is a map from FlashEarth.com of the area:


    Two families – Mitch Logue and Donald and Colleen Kunecke, wanted the city to install guardrails to prevent future incidents like this one below:


    I’ve written about it a couple times. Here is a link to a previous blog about the problem.

    Well the Colorado Springs traffic engineer, Dave Krauth, said the intersection won’t accomodate guard rails. But he’s interested in testing sophisticated new traffic sensors to see if he can stop some of the carnage.

    The sensors track cars entering an intersection as the traffic signal is about to change. Traffic engineers call this moment the “dilemma zone.”

     The sensors can delay the change to allow the cars to clear without stomping on their gas and plowing over the curb and into a fence and yard.

    There’s also news on another bottleneck in the city. This one is a two-lane stretch of Dublin Boulevard between Bridle Pass Drive and Powers Boulevard. Here’s a look from FlashEarth:


    Readers like Tim Little want to know why Dublin suddenly shrinks from four lanes to two and a stretch of pavement sits unfinished.

    It’s a twisted tale of land that is annexed vs. unincorporated land stuck in El Paso County.


    It is further complicated by rules about when a develop must build infrastructure like roads, curbs and sidewalks.

    Krauth said the road will be widened as land is developed along the stretch. Already a short piece was widened but never attached to the intersection at Bridle Pass due to a property line issue.


    The rest of the road won’t be widened until county land on the north side is developed and annexed into the city.

    As a result, motorists are stuck with roads that look like this view to the east:


    And this view looking west:


    ================ NOW THE UPDATE ================


    I now have an answer to the mysterious disappearing pavement.


    The new black pavement was installed by the developer of a townhome project adjacent to Dublin Boulevard. However, it ends about 400 feet from the intersection to the west.

    Why didn’t the developer just finish the job?

    Tim Mitros of city engineering tells me the pavement ends at a property line. Developers are required to install infrastructure — sidewalks, curbs, gutters even roadway – adjacent to their projects. But not for a neighbor’s land.

    In the case above, the pavement ends at the property line of the next parcel and the remaining 400 feet will be installed if and when the adjacent land is developed.



    Sun, November 9, 2008 by Bill Vogrin with 10 comments

    To motorists like Wally Lucas, roundabouts or traffic circles are organized chaos. There’s nothing wrong with a roundabout that a couple stop signs wouldn’t cure.

    Lucas is so frustrated he wants voters to abolish roundabouts in Colorado Springs.

    Not so fast, says Dave Krauth, principal traffic engineer for Colorado Springs. He and other traffic engineers absolutely love roundabouts.

    They are a thing of beauty. Check out these views from GoogleEarth.com:

    Traffic engineers praise roundabouts for reducing the number of wrecks at intersections as well as the severity of injuries and damage due to wrecks. You don’t get those nasty T-bone crashes at roundabouts because there are no right-angle turns and speeds are lower.

    Here are a few of the roundabouts scattered across Colorado Springs. First, the hotly debated and fiercely opposed roundabout on Lake Avenue.

    Here is a look at one on Mesa Road at the entrance to Kissing Camels.

    The new Wolf Ranch subdivision on Research Parkway, east of Powers Boulevard, is an example of traffic engineer utopia. It is littered with roundabouts. Take a look.

    Then there is the “green” factor of roundabouts. Since you don’t stop, your fuel efficiency is enhanced.

    But Lucas said too many motorists are unfamiliar with the concept of continuous flowing traffic. The South Carefree Circle roundabout is especially treacherous because it has two lanes of traffic going in every direction.

    Krause and traffic engineers say roundabouts are simple, if people take the time to educate themselves. Study the signs. read the pamphlet and watch the video the city produced. It might help.

    You can find even more information on the city’s Traffic Roundabouts Web page at SpringsGov.com.