Neighbors seeing red over W. Kiowa infill project

       A six-duplex infill development in the 3300 block of West Kiowa Street has noticeably cut into a Garden of the Gods-type rock formation and continues to leave unresolved issues for surrounding neighbors regarding a greatly elevated alley, long-term maintenance of a new storm drain and (in one case) whether they'll lose part of their land. A photo taken from Kiowa Street shows a backhoe, the red
rock formation, the old “Red Rock Village” sign (a holdover
from when the property had several older cabins for rent)
and a sign for the infill duplex development advertising
“new luxury Santa Fe Style Duet - Villas.” 
Westside Pioneer photo
       Patricia Shannon, who bought the 1-plus acre property at 3325 W. Kiowa last year with her husband Richard, believes that when their developer, Jeff Shada, is finished, the project will “fit in with the rocks” and provide a significant upgrade to a site that previously had unrenovated cabins of 50 to 100 years old. The Shannons, who've lived in Monument for 30 years, chose the site because “we love Old Colorado City,” Mrs. Shannon said. “It has a funkiness and uniqueness - not cookie cutter, and we've always loved the red rocks.”
       Shannon's enthusiasm is not shared by Jenna Saunders, who has owned her house at 11 Red Rock Ave. since 1998. A corner of her property is shown on the city- approved project grading plan as being part of the development. Although Colorado Springs planner Brett Veltman provided reassurances this week that the Shannons cannot build on her land without her permission or buying the property outright, Saunders has nothing in writing on that and plans to talk to City Council about the project during the public comment portion of its formal meeting Tuesday, Feb. 13.
       “I've lived here nine years,” she said in an interview this week. “It's all I have.”
       She is backed by Richard and Shirley White of 3320 W. Pikes Peak Ave. and their neighbors, Paul and Crystal Rhodes of 3326, who live below the alley bordering on the south edge of the project. Both are unhappy with recent developer efforts - not in keeping with the grading plan - to raise the alley several feet so that its stormwater will eventually flow onto Kiowa Street; nor with the lack of a maintenance plan for the drainage pipe to Kiowa from the alley (which has no outlet otherwise except the White and Rhodes backyards). Neither the city nor the developer has told them yet exactly how high the alley must be raised or how. Nor are they pleased with the high retaining walls that must be built behind their properties as a result.
       These are no short-time residents. Mrs. Rhodes has lived at 3326 her entire 85 years. She remembers climbing to the top of the “big rock,” as she calls the formation on the east side of the Shannon property, on birthdays when she was a young girl. “Now what am I going to see? Just a big wall,” she said.
       Shirley White is not too far behind in longevity. She has lived at 3320 since 1952. The property is noteworthy on Pikes Peak Avenue for a Garden-esque formation on its side yard, which actually is in line with the Big Rock.
       Mrs. White believes the city is letting the neighborhood down. “They're pushing the citizens instead of telling the developer what he should do,” she said.
       The dispute points up problems that can result from a city policy of working with old plat maps instead of rejecting them if they seem outdated. Plat maps define specific lot lines for construction purposes. The 3325 map might be as old as 1889, Veltman said. Not uncommon for old plats, 3325's did not address drainage nor how to build around the rock formations on the east side of the property.
       Veltman does not try to minimize the difficulties of the project. “It's a very challenging site,” he said. “It involves infill in an existing neighborhood, very significant outcroppings and a pre-existing drainage problem.”
       Senior city civil engineer Steve Kuehster, who is reviewing the development's drainage-control efforts, referred to 3325 as “one of the diciest projects I've had on the Westside.”
       Nevertheless, Veltman said that the city did not have the option of throwing out 3325's ancient plat. Planners have the leeway of working modern codes and standards into the review process; and, from a legal standpoint, “if we refused to accept an existing plat, it could be viewed as a taking,” he said. “So we don't expire those.”
       One of the agreements with the developer, which Veltman said was acceptable under city ordinance (but which the neighbors believe may in be violation of the hillside ordinance), was allowing Shada's backhoes to scrape the rock formation vertically below the pre-existing grade. The cuts were needed to make room for a single- family house on the easternmost lot. However, Shada was not allowed to use dynamite, and the developer also cannot alter any of the formation above the grade, Veltman said.
       The planner also noted that, while the rock cuts may look ugly now, the developer is required to cover them up, either by restoring the dirt as before or by erecting retaining walls.
       For drainage, Kuehster has had to puzzle out solutions too. An initial idea was to ask the Whites and Rhodes if they would allow easements to pipe stormwater through their properties (because the natural downhill flow is in their direction). Both families said no. Kuehster conceded in an interview that this was an unusual request.
       After that, Kuehster and the developer came up with the current plan, which the city civil engineer refers to as grading the property to “tip the table” toward Kiowa. Kuehster frankly described the resulting physical arrangement as “not exactly ideal” for maintenance. The easement, going between two duplex buildings, is 10 feet wide - “not wide enough,” he said. “I'd like a 15-foot easement where you could drive in a backhoe and work.” However, he added, 10 feet still allows room for “some little machine” that should be able to handle most problems.
       He has a similar concern about the size of the line. Twelve inches “doesn't really meet our criteria,” he said. “We'd prefer 15.”
       Asked why the city did not insist on a larger easement and line, Kuehster said it was part of an effort to work with the developer.
       As for the elevated alley, Kuehster acknowledged that the latest changes do not follow notes on the grading plan, which state that the alley is not to be altered. (If that had been followed, White could have continued his longstanding, unique practice of siphoning excess water out of the alley - which formerly was lower in the middle - with a garden hose.)
       On the duplex construction, Veltman is requiring that a grading plan note be followed that calls for just two lots to be built initially; this will give the city a chance to assess how the drainage line between those lots is working, he said.
       Because the building proposal was in keeping with the old plat and the property's R-2 zone, its review path was different than that for a new project. For new plans, the city typically calls for one or more neighborhood meetings before the developer formally submits a plan. But because 3325 was “previously approved,” Veltman explained, such meetings were not required.
       Pat Shannon believes group meetings were not necessary. “We've tried to let everyone know what's going on,” she said, describing the project as “not a development, but a little infill.”
       The neighbors disagree with that assessment. Dismay was expressed at finding all the trees cut down (although Veltman says that most of the trees were undesirable types), the rocks scraped and the alley being raised. Saunders said Shada and Rick Shannon met with her once, but never explained what they had in mind for her land. The Rhodes have yet to be asked whether they would approve higher walls on their property, Mrs. Rhodes said. And the Whites are so alienated that by now, as Richard put it, “there's nothing you can do. They say they'll get back to you, but they never do.”
       Kuehster stressed that personally, “I am totally sympathetic to the Whites and the Rhodes. They're next to an area that's zoned R-2 and it's higher than them. I can see why it's heart-breaking to them. There were trees and deer used to run through. But it is private property that is zoned and platted.”

Westside Pioneer article