Photo Credit: Denver Post
Just 2 weeks into 2021, multiple readers have contacted us about different land development projects and upcoming zoning changes impacting their neighborhoods. The City of Colorado Springs is on a quest to increase population density. The terms “infill” and “density” are repeated over and over again in PlanCOS, the 2019 City of Colorado Springs adopted master plan. The objective of infill projects is to increase population density throughout the city. That results in more taxpayers contributing financially to road upkeep, fire, parks, police, schools, etc. It’s about filling government coffers.
Over the past few years, we can’t recall a single instance where homeowners have prevailed in their opposition to neighborhood zoning changes. There was the Kettle Creek development, where homeowners’ concerns about fire evacuation routes fell of deaf ears (we are looking into how this passed in a last minute voting switcheroo), and in Springs Ranch, where the City sided with the developer on going back on their original agreement with homeowners.
These battles pit citizens against a machine —the City of Colorado Springs employees, the Mayor, and well-funded developers. There is little doubt that the city employees do what the Mayor tells them to do, even though city employees are supposed to be neutral parties in these projects. Public servants aren’t looking out for the homeowners. It’s always an uphill battle for them.
Let’s take a look at one of the current infill projects. On Thursday, January 21st, the City of Colorado Springs Planning Commission will review an application to allow a 125-acre zoning change at 2424 West Garden of the Gods Road. This is the location of the old MCI building and up until now, it has housed offices. Secretive developers want to change it from industrial zoning to planned unit development (PUD). The developer wants 18 apartment units per acre on the site. Right now, that equates to 450 apartments. The Mountain Shadows community borders 2424 West Garden of the Gods, and they are fighting the project. We support the homeowners, who didn’t ask for this change.
- The biggest investment most people make is a home purchase. Unanticipated zoning changes to surrounding properties impact that investment.
- More neighborhood traffic hurts quality of life. The traffic studies for the 2424 West Garden of the Gods project were performed during the pandemic, when so many people have been working from home, and when there was less tourism in Colorado Springs. Of course, roads were deemed adequate in the traffic study. When life returns to normal, will the roads in that area truly be sufficient?
- The building backs up to land that is occupied by wildlife. Big horn sheep graze in the area. Humans keep pushing into wildlife areas, which is never good for the humans or wildlife.
- It’s unsafe to continue to add more homes to wildfire vulnerable areas, especially those with limited egress.
Let’s dive deeper into point #4. The Waldo Canyon fire of 2012 devastated the Mountain Shadows community. The images of the long traffic lines evacuating the burning neighborhood are unforgettable. As the fire came over the hill, many were left fleeing for their lives only to be stuck in traffic as they left. Now, with the 2424 West Garden of the Gods re-zone request, the City of Colorado Springs and developers want to add even more residents to that neighborhood. The area is already overwhelmed with traffic, especially during the highest fire danger months of June, July, and August. Tourists pour into Garden of the Gods and pack those roads during the summer months as well.
Colorado Springs Fire Marshal, Brett Lacey, was quoted in a recent Gazette article (which describes the Mountain Shadows residents as ‘revolting’ over this move) about the 2424 West Garden of the Gods re-zoning project. He reflected on the Waldo Canyon fire, too.
From the article: “Colorado Springs Fire Marshal Brett Lacey acknowledge (sic) the roads were packed during the evacuation, but he said the city could never build enough roads to meet those concerns. Rather, residents should be aware of their risk during an emergency and leave before an official evacuation is ordered…it comes down to neighborhood awareness and preparedness…”
Lacey’s comments are troublesome. A wildfire is a serious, emergent situation. His job is to look out for citizens. It’s a reasonable expectation that the Colorado Springs Fire Department should relay timely, proper information about citizen evacuations. There should be no amateur guesswork about whether one should remain in a home or leave. Considering the Waldo Canyon Fire disaster, common sense says it’s a bad idea to add more cars, more property, and more bodies to that area.
While this specific plan may not impact every neighborhood today, similar re-zoning scenarios will play out over and over again in the next couple of years. In the Plan COS chart below, it’s clear the City has researched every vacant piece of land and property in the city. There is a chance that re-zoning projects will be coming to your neighborhoods, too. Keep an ear out for the term “flex-zoning” as has been used recently in the Middle Shooks Run Neighborhood.
Don’t sit back and wait until that happens in your area. Local politicians plan to change Colorado Springs into something most of us don’t want —an over-crowded high-density urban metropolis.
Contact these public servants to let them know the 2424 West Garden of the Gods infill project is poorly thought out and the re-zoning plan needs to be rejected.
Mayor Suthers (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Chief of Staff Jeff Greene (email@example.com)
Project planner Katelynn Wintz (Katelynn.Wintz@coloradosprings.gov)