2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • WOODMOOR IS CAUGHT IN THE RAT RACE

    Wed, October 19, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Hey all you fans of the Southern Delivery System water pipeline . . . if you were thinking of moving out of Colorado Springs to escape the cost, don’t bother househunting in Woodmoor!

    Folks there who wanted to move to the country and get away from big-city politics, angry public hearings and big fee increases imposed by public officials in defiance of the will of the people are being disappointed.

    That’s the case for Woodmoor resident Jennifer Davis.

    She and her family moved from California’s Bay Area to Woodmoor in 2008 in hopes of a quieter life.

    But all the issues of the city seem to have followed her to Woodmoor, the unincorporated community of 3,000 homes east of Monument.

    “I’m frustrated,” Davis said Tuesday, still fuming after attending a meeting Monday night of the five-member Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District Boardwhere 140 or so residents showed up to protect the proposed $30 million purchase of 3,300 acres of the JV Ranch near Fountain.

    The ranch, owned by relatives of the late John Venezia, who developed Briargate and Peregrine, is coveted for its water rights. (Colorado Springs paid Venezia $3.2 million for 3,680 adjacent acres in 1989.)

    The Woodmoor water board voted unanimously to buy the land after hours of emotional testimony and a near unanimous vote by the people in opposition to the purchase.

    “It was power politics,” Davis said. “They didn’t listen to anything any of us said. Their minds were made up. Basically, they told us ‘We’re buying you a ranch and you’re going to pay for it and you’re going to like it.’ I was so dismayed by the arrogance of those people.”

    Davis and others say they feel betrayed by the five board members. (Gazette IT expert Beth Courrau is on the board.)

    Several Woodmoor residents asked me how the board could ignore the residents and saddle the water district’s 8,350 residential and business customers with a huge debt. Average residential water rates will increase $50 a month to pay for the ranch.

    A large portion of the JV Ranch, southeast of Fountain, is seen on the El Paso County Assessor's website. The Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District voted Monday, Oct. 17, 2011, to pay up to $30 million for 3,300 acres of the ranch to obtain its water rights.

     Worse, neighbors say, they will have to spend perhaps $100 million more to build a pipeline to deliver the water uphill to Woodmoor.

    (Where have I heard this scenario before? Actually, Springs Utilities is paying about $2.3 billion in phase one of the SDS pipeline project. The eventual full price is unknown.)

    “I’m shocked,” said Bob Benton, a 15-year Woodmoor resident. Benton left the meeting early, convinced the board would never proceed in the face of such fierce opposition.

    “That’s impossible,” Benton said.

    The 3,300 acres of the JV Ranch to be purchased by the Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District includes Calhan Reservoir, seen here. A 3,680-acre parcel purchased by Colorado Springs in 1989 is just east of this property.

    “I’m completely shocked. More than 130 people voted ‘No’ at the meeting. Emphatically no. I’ve never been more disgusted in my life.”

    Carolyn Streit-Carey also attended the meeting and was sickened by the vote.

    “It was a sham,” she said. “The board simply went through the motions of holding a public hearing. They didn’t listen to anyone. I think most of the people in the audience felt betrayed.”

     

    This is a map of the Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District service area.

    Water district manager Jessie Shaffer defended the vote as the right thing to do.

    Groundwater is diminishing, he said. A reliable source is imperative. Woodmoor’s future is at stake.

    Tell that to the neighbors.

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    To read more about SDS, click here for an archive of Gazette stories.

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  • DOEWOOD GATE DECISION SURE TO MAKE FOLKS MAD

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

    The controversial Doewood Drive gate in Woodmoor, east of Monument. Erected in 1996, it has been the subject of heated debate in recent years between nearby residents who want the road closed permanently and surrounding residents who want it open to through traffic as originally intended.

    Folks in Woodmoor are upset. The focus of the snit is 350 feet of dirt with a big steel gate in the middle.

    This is no small time quarrel. Woodmoor is one of the largest unincorporated communities in Colorado with 3,000 homes, a lake and golf course. Traffic is a big deal.

    And so is the Doewood Gate.

    The strip of dirt connects the northern and southern sections of Doewood Drive. It’s a right-of-way established in 1996 when the area was developing.

    The dirt and the gate were built to allow Doewood to be completed as a north-south through road once the neighborhood was fully built and traffic volumes made the connection necessary.

    In November 2009, the county transportation folks took ownership of the roads as the Doewood Estates was deemed completed. And they started making plans to complete Doewood and open it.

    Whoa!

    The folks who live on Doewood were not happy. They don’t want the estimated 650 cars a day traffic engineers say would use Doewood once it is opened.

    They collected 118 signatures on a petition to convince the El Paso County Commission to keep Doewood as is. In fact, they want the gate removed, the dirt plowed and seeded and the land deeded to adjacent neighbors, forever ending the Doewood Gate Debate.

    Folks who live on the streets around Doewood are equally passionate about the gate.

    They want the dirt paved and the gate removed. They are tired of commuters using their side streets to reach County Line Road on their way to Interstate 25.

    They circulated their own petition and collected 160 signatures.

    Experts who studied the question for the county concluded the road should be opened. They say emergency vehicles will have quicker response times to crimes, fires and medical emergencies.

    And access will make increase the safety on surrounding streets they say were not designed for all that traffic.

    They also recommend Doewood be smoothed of a dangerous curve and that it be widened and resurfaced. Cost estimates are around $600,000.

    A look at the closed section of Doewood Drive in Woodmoor as seen from Google Earth.

    The county will take up the issue during an informal work session and then before the formal board in May.

    I’m expecting fireworks.

    WHAT: Board of County Commission work session

    WHEN: 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., May 17

    WHERE: County Office Building, 27 E. Vermijo Ave. downtown, Third Floor, Commission Hearing Room

    NOTE: No formal action is taken during work sessions. The commission is scheduled to formally consider the Doewood Gate issue at its May 24 meeting.

    The Doewood Drive gate is visible to the north from Ridgeview Circle.

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    In 1996, the El Paso County Planning Commission made provivisions for the completion of Doewood Drive. But it held out the possibility it might never be built as a through-street:

    Click here to read a 16-page report prepared in March.

    Read an extensive study of the traffic patterns and the impact of opening the gate.

    In January 2010, the county hosted a standing-room-only public meeting. Here is the presentation made at the meeting.

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  • BIRD BUSINESS GETTING EXPENSIVE AS FINES MOUNT

    Sun, January 9, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with 2 comments

    Round One goes to the Van Wormers. But Round Two is already costing them cash.

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    Cynthia Van Wormer kisses one of the birds she breeds and sells from her home in Woodmoor. The neighborhood homeowners association has ordered her to move her business because it violates covenants prohibiting animal breeding. Photo courtesy of KRDO Newschannel 13.

    Cynthia and Thomas Van Wormer convinced the El Paso County Commission on Thursday to wink at state laws and county ordinances and let them keep their Rocky Mountain Bird Farm & Pet Supply in their Woodmoor home.

    Thomas and Cynthia Van Wormer spoke Thursday to the El Paso County Commission in defense of their Rocky Mountain Bird Farm & Pet Supply business that they operate from their Woodmoor home.

    It didn’t bother three members of the commission — Wayne Williams, Amy Lathen and Dennis Hisey — that the business violates state and county rules for home businesses and bird breeding.

    Williams said if neighbors can’t hear or smell the birds, then the government should butt out. I call the policy “Don’t Ask, Don’t Smell.”

    The three commissioners’ attitude incensed the Woodmoor Improvement Association, which is the homeowners association for the 3,000-home community in the woods east of Monument.

    WIA President Chuck Maher called the commissioners gutless and said he wished he hadn’t voted for them. And he vowed the WIA would do what the commission didn’t have the spine to do.

    Thomas Van Wormer, business partner Shawn Rapley, and Cynthia Van Wormer listen to testimony Thursday before the El Paso County Commission.

    “We will enforce our covenants,” Maher said, vowing to use all means necessary including asking a judge for a restraining order to evict the business from the home.

    In fact, the wheels of HOA justice already are turning.

    On Friday, the WIA won a court decision against the Van Wormers over legal fees associated with fighting a restraining order the couple brought against the association in October.

    The WIA submitted fees of about $1,600 in that case.

    And the couple now is liable for daily fines stemming from their home business.

    At a November WIA board meeting, the couple was found to be in violation of two covenants. Board members described it as a tense meeting in which Cynthia Van Wormer shouted and used obscenities in addressing the board and neighbors.

    It fined them $50 for barking dog violations and $50 for having an unapproved home business, according to WIA attorney Debra Oppenheimer.

    Both fines were suspended to let the couple remedy the violations. When their two wolf hybrids were shipped to a sanctuary in California late last month, they avoided the first fine.

    But Oppenheimer said the home business continues to operate and the $50 fine will be reinstated along with a $25 daily fine that will accrue until the business is gone. The daily fine took effect Dec. 31, meaning the couple now owes $250 and counting!

    I tried to talk to the Van Wormers about all this.

    Cynthia Van Wormer called the commission’s decision “fair” but declined to tell me her next move. Instead, she attacked me, accusing me of slanting my original column against them.

    Cynthia got very angry when I asked her about her testimony to the commission in which she said only about 25 percent of her 1883-square-foot home is dedicated to the business.

    I reminded her that she told me her entire basement — about 1,000 square feet — is filled with 50 birds and she had put her living room and dining room furniture in storage to accomodate another 48 birds. That sounded like far more than 25 percent — the legal limit — to me.

    Thomas and their business partner, Shawn Rapley, also criticized me and accused me of being unfair in my portrayal of them.

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  • 100 EXOTIC BIRDS, FIVE AKITAS, TWO WOLF HYBRIDS and a patridge in a pear tree

    Wed, January 5, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    Cynthia Van Wormer can’t understand why her neighbors care if she keeps 100 exotic birds, breeds them and sells them from her modest ranch home in Woodmoor, east of Monument.

    She doesn’t understand why anyone thinks her Akita dogs were vicious or dangerous and had to be destroyed.

    And she’s angry the county forced her to send her wolf-hybrids to a shelter in California.

    She hopes her response to complaints will convince the El Paso County Commission to let her keep her menagerie. At least her birds and her business at her home.

    “It’s really sad I can’t live and run a little business in my own home and be left alone,” Van Wormer said Wednesday.

    She blames her neighbor, John Clark, for her problems. He has filed repeated complaints against Van Wormer over her animals. It goes back to 2002 when one of Van Wormer’s dogs, Kai, left her yard and attacked his golden retriever pups.

    The humane society impounded Kai, held it 101 days before a judge released the dog and it returned home. A few months later, the dog died unexpectedly and Van Wormer blamed Clark.

    Here is a look at the neighborhood from Google Earth:

    Here is the packet of information prepared for El Paso County Commissioners by the code enforcement officers to be presented at Thursday’s meeting. Here is the second violation notice mailed in November.

    Clark denies Van Wormer’s allegation that he poisoned Kai. And tests of the dog were inconclusive. She sued him anyway and won a small settlement.

    Things intensified around 2009 when her bird collection grew to about 100, she got three new Akitas and two wolf-hybrids. She found herself facing complaints from Clark, other neighbors, the Woodmoor Improvement Association and the county.

    In September, the three Akitas were destroyed after complaints about vicious fighting. And Van Wormer sent the wolf hybrids to a sanctuary in California a couple weeks ago after county complaints.

    And she has sought a restraining order against Clark, accusing him of threatening her life.

    He denies making any threats and cites her “erratic” behavior as the reason he’s thinking of moving. He said he is scared of her after a domestic dispute in her home in June 2000 led to her arrest for assault on a police officer. And he cited her use of a gun around 1999, shooting at someone in her home.

    What about the shooting in 1999? She says an intruder threatened her life so she grabbed her husband’s gun and fired, being careful to aim about six inches to the side of the man’s head. The man fled and was not immediately caught.

    Van Wormer said Thursday the man was caught, eventually, and is incarcerated. But she did not give his name and declined to answer any more questions from me about the incident.

    What about that arrest back in June 2000? She said it happened after EL Paso County Sheriff’s deputies answered a call about a domestic dispute at the home. She wanted to throw her husband out of the house. She said he kicked the door in.

    But when police arrived, she said one of the officers sexually assaulted her by placing both hands on her breasts and pushing her up against a wall to restrain her. She responded by slapping him. The slap was minor, she said, and didn’t even leave a red mark.

    Here’s the police report of the incident. The arresting officers paint a much different, and darker, picture of events.

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  • HOA LOSERS GO DOWN KICKING AND SCREAMING

    Wed, July 28, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Rarely, it seems, are there graceful losers when Homeowners Association go to war. Some board members who can’t accept their defeat and scratch and claw trying to remain in power.

    We were witness to that Tuesday in 4th Judicial District Court.

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     Judge Larry Schwartz presided as ousted Crystal Park community HOA board members desparately tried to retain their seats on the board.

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    It’s kind of sad, really.

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    The community had just voted to flush the board by an overwhelming majority. A recall group collected 187 votes to oust the six board members. Just 20 voted to retain the board.

    But there they were in court, their attorney trying to argue all the reasons they should remain on the volunteer board.

    In the words of the late Hunter Thompson, it was all a lot of “niggling gibberish.”

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    Schwartz didn’t want to rehash all the battles that led to the recall effort. I’ve written about some of the issues that divide the 220 homeowners on 2,000  wooded, mountainside acres.

    Folks in the lower park — many are older, longer-tenured residents — object to spending by the previous board to create a volunteer fire department.

    The department was pushes mostly by residents in the upper reaches of the park. Many of them have lived in the park a shorter amount of time.

    But Schwartz didn’t want to hear all the history.

    He was there to determine if the recall election was legal. Did residents have “cause” for a recall? Did they follow the law in gathering proxies? Was their request for a special board meeting valid? Was their use of an independent account to certify the results proper?

    His answer? Yes, yes and yes. The people have spoken. The vote is legit. The old board is out and the new, interim board, is in. Only until elections can be held to find permanent replacements at the regular annual meeting this fall.

    Check out my earlier blog on this topic. And here’s a link to the recall group’s blog.

    Now, on to the Woodmoor Improvement Association.

    Woodmoor Improvement Association

    Woodmoor is one of the largest HOA communities in Colorado.

    I first wrote about the WIA and its board power struggles in January 2009. At that time, five board members had resigned in the prior months.

     I talked to three previoius WIA board presidents who took turns criticizing the current board and its president, George McFadden. They called him “King George.”

    Things got so bad in Woodmoor that a group of dissidents organized a coup this past January. A slate of three candidates ran against a slate of McFadden allies. The dissidents won by a huge margin. They joined three sitting board members to oust McFadden from the presidency. Next they got busy undoing many of his policies. Here’s my blog from that episode.

    In the months after the election, McFadden and his two remaining board allies, Larry Goad and Mari Robbins, went missing in action.

    They just didn’t show up for board meetings. So, in May, the board bounced them out and in June replacements were elected.

    Funny thing is, McFadden, Goad and Rollins are angry. They say their ouster was illegal.

    They wrote an “open letter” to the residents of Woodmoor protesting their removal. They even called on the new WIA president Chuck Maher to resign. Here’s the letter from the July edition of Our Community News.

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    I had a hard time reconciling in my mind how the three could be “faithful board members” when they never even show up. So I tried to call McFadden to ask him about the seeming contradiction.

    As in the past, he declined to talk to me.

    But he sent me a letter in which he explains his position:

  • SMALL HOAS SEEK FAIRNESS FROM COLORADO LAWMAKERS

    Sun, February 21, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    State Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument

     

    Rep. Amy Stephens, a Monument Republican, has introduced a little bill in the 2010 Colorado General Assembly that would have a big impact on small homeowners associations.

    Stephens’ bill, House Bill 1290, would allow small HOAs to exempt themselves from the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act, a law enacted in 1992 to govern condominium and townhome complexes as well as large neighborhoods that have jointly owned parks, trails, open space and covenants.

    She calls it a matter of “common sense” because large condos and townhome

    Jan Doran

    complexes and sprawling subdivisions like Woodmoor with its 3,000 homes have much different issues than small single-family neighborhoods that were commonly build in the 1970s and ’80s.

    To Jan Doran, administrator of the Discovery neighborhood homeowners association in Rockrimmon, it’s a matter of fairness.

    Her HOA collects just $30 a year in dues from its 329 homeowners. That’s not even $10,000 in annual revenue. She said the HOA can’t afford all the government mandates handed down in recent years by the General Assembly.

    It maintains a Web site where it posts all its covenants, bylaws, budgets, audits, reports and meeting minutes. But then there are the reports the HOA must produce for real estate agents and prospective buyers in addition to Discovery residents.

    Attorney Lenard Rioth says an oversight in 1992 led to older, smaller HOAs to remain under the rule of CCIOA while newer, smaller HOAs were exempt. He said it’s time to allow the older, smaller HOAs like Discovery to opt out, too, if they like.

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