‘I’m embarassed by that’
Radford, other council members distressed but powerless to help in Kiowa infill project

       Despite continuing complaints from neighbors and laments from City Council, the West Kiowa Avenue infill project will move forward.
       “I don't know what we can do to help these people now,” commented council member Margaret Radford near the end of a 30-minute discussion at the Feb. 27 council meeting. “I'm embarassed by that. I am.”
       Commented council member Randy Purvis, “I know we're trying to promote infill, but we need a greater sensitivity to the neighborhood where it's proposed.”
       The partially built 11-unit infill project (five duplexes, one house) is located on about one acre in an older neighborhood at 3325 W. Kiowa. Because of a grandfathered, 118-year-old plat, city officials say they have been constrained in how much they could require of the developer, and this has frustrated nearby residents - some of whom feel they've been let down by their public servants.
       Issues include below-grade cutting into a red rock formation, drainage onto neighboring properties, changes in a city alley that will be used for access, application of the city's hillside overlay zone and adding to an outdated, above-ground sewer line.
       Radford prefaced her remarks with criticism of city staff, who - because of the previously approved plat - did not call a neighborhood meeting early on to address the issues nor to ask for guidance from the elected council members about some of the problems they were encountering. “That's what we're here for,” she said. “And if there isn't a mechanism for that, there should be.”
       At council's direction, a neighborhood meeting was held Feb. 21 after some of the Kiowa neighbors had spoken at the Feb. 13 council meeting.
       Following the Feb. 27 council meeting, neighborhood contact Jenna Saunders deplored what she deemed a lack of progress, but said she was “going to keep working with the builder and city on the specific issues.” She also got bad news this week on a personal aspect of the conflict - the City Attorney's Office has refused to support her on a survey conflict showing the far west boundary of the project property overlapping a corner of hers. She said she plans to talk to her attorney about it.
       Regarding the drainage, City Engineer Cam McNair said the developer, Jeff Shada of Shada Enterprises, “is hiring a new engineer, and there will be a new drainage plan.” In a separate interview, Assistant City Manager Mike Anderson noted that staff will present the drainage update to council at its next meeting in two weeks.
       Shada is building close to the maximum allowable building size and height on the two lots (7 and 8) for which he has a building permit. He has also graded onto a third lot (Lot 9 - the one with the rock formation) for which he did not have a permit, according to city officials.
       Shada had unsuccessfully argued with City Planning staff Feb. 21 that his 7-8 permit also included 9, and suggested he'd take up the point with the city attorney. However, this had not happened at press time this week.
       Anderson said he directed city zoning enforcement officials to issue a formal stop work order on Lot 9 this week. This means Shada cannot further touch that lot until he gets a building permit for it, Anderson said. However, no fines or other penalties are currently envisioned. Also, according to Brett Veltman, the city's lead planner on the project, it appears that Shada's grading was correct within what he could be permitted for. “He just got ahead of himself,” he told council.
       In an interview with the Pioneer, Veltman provided an update on the survey he had told the neighbors would be performed (to verify that Shada's lots and buildings are where they should be). He said he believes Shada has been out of town since the neighborhood meeting, but “we are going to ask him to provide us with a survey or location certificate to establish that what's happening on the ground is correct. We won't issue a permit (for Lot 9) till he does that. Or we could stop the permits where he's working now.”
       The City Attorney's Office would be involved in verifying the survey's accuracy, residents had been told by a city representative at the neighborhood meeting.
       One of the neighbors, Richard White, has produced a long list of what he believes are hillside overlay violations. However, Veltman has put aside all of these, saying they don't apply, largely because of the pre-approved plat and the property's lack of preservable hillside characteristics - other than the rock formation. Council also asked Veltman about the rocks. He told the group that staff had allowed the below-grade cutting because the developer needed the space to build a house on the lot, which previously was 60 to 70 percent covered by rock.
       He said the city has taken preservation steps where it could on the project, without denying the property owner's rights. These include protecting the rock outcropping above the grade, holding cuts and fills to “less than 5 feet for the most part,” and limiting the height of retaining walls.
       One part of the ordinance states that the exact height of retaining walls should be stated before a plan is approved. Veltman acknowledged that White is still waiting for the city to tell him how high the retaining wall will have to be at the back of his property to accommodate an alley that will be raised to a level that the developer and the city still have not figured out as they try to work out a drainage plan that will carry more runoff onto Kiowa, which has a separate problem of flowing into a private drainage ditch.
       In discussing a drainage solution at the meeting, Purvis asked if the neighborhood had been asked if they wanted the project's stormwater, and Veltman said he didn't think so.
       McNair noted after the meeting that he did not believe the amount of drainage from the property would be that excessive, but added that the neighborhood as a whole has pre-existing runoff issues that ought to be addressed by the city's new stormwater fund at some point in the future.
       At the Feb. 27 council meeting, Saunders charged that McNair had told the residents south of the alley (fronting onto Pikes Peak Avenue) on Feb. 21 that he would put the retaining wall at the back of the alley whether they liked it or not (after being told they would not allow drainage easements through their properties). McNair clarified in an interview that any such wall would be on city property (the alley), but “I don't think that would be a good situation for anyone. I hope they're still willing to talk.”
       During the Feb. 27 council meeting, Mayor Lionel Rivera expressed concern that, even if all the codes were followed, the city has created a potential liability for itself, especially with the drainage. “It seems to me that we as a city are responsible if we approve a drainage plan that causes damage to someone's home,” he said.
       Anderson spoke at the meeting of revising city codes to help prevent something like this happening again, but as yet has no specific recommendations.

Westside Pioneer article