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Rural-style neighborhood off Mesa Road writes master plan to keep it that way

       Impressed that a reported 32 of 33 property owners agreed, City Council voted in February to approve a neighborhood-initiated master plan for a 77-acre area straddling a portion of Mesa Road.
       The plan has no legal standing, but lets the city know that nearly everyone living in what's known as the Rawles Open Space Neighborhood (ROSN) wants to preserve its traditional non-urban identity.
       “It has the same character now as when John Armstrong developed it in 1940, with large lots, low density, gracious setbacks, no sidewalks and a very rural
A map shows the boundaries of the 77-acre Rawles Master Plan area along Mesa Road. It straddles about three quarters of a mile of Mesa Road between Uintah Street (not shown at lower right) and 19th Street (not shown at upper left).
Courtesy of Colorado Springs Land Use Review
feeling,” commented Bruce Warren, one of several ROSN supporters at the meeting, who said he has lived in his Mesa Road home for more than 35 years.
       According to Steve Tuck, the city planner assigned to the matter, Rawles is only the third neighborhood in Colorado Springs to ever take advantage of the option to work with city staff to master-plan itself. Master plans are most commonly prepared by large developers and occasionally by the city, Tuck told council.
       The Rawles area covers about three-quarters of a mile along Mesa Road, from several hundred feet north of Uintah Street to several hundred feet south of 19th Street.
       Along with private properties, the area includes two open-space parcels, totalling 11 acres. The master-plan name comes from one of the open spaces, seven acres in size, donated by Tish Rawles in 1979.
       The only “no” vote on council was cast by Jill Gaebler, who was dismayed that the master plan did not call for sidewalks, as stated in the city's longstanding “complete streets” policy. She was especially concerned about such needs with an estimated 2,400 students combined attending Holmes and Coronado schools about a mile and a half to the north, off Mesa Road and Fillmore Street.
       But Merv Bennett, the councilmember who moved for approval, believes that the Palmer-Mesa Trail along Mesa between Fillmore and Uintah - a project that the Rawles residents initiated in 1992 - serves the purpose.
       Bennett also lauded the neighborhood as a “jewel in the community,” and said the city should encourage any residents who want to preserve their neighborhoods
An idea of the secluded nature of the Rawles Open Space Neighborhood is offered in this photo, looking northeast toward the intersection of Mesa Road and the no-outlet La Mesa Street. A home, set well back from Mesa Road, can be seen through the trees at right.
Westside Pioneer photo
the way the Rawles group does. “Thirty-two out of 33 [property owners in favor] is pretty incredible,” he said.
       Regarding traffic, Tuck noted that there is room on Mesa for sidewalks, bike lanes and even a four-lane road, if the number of vehicles ever called for it. But for now, considering the number of cars, the street can remain unchanged as a “nod to the unique character of the neighborhood,” he said.
       Council's approval culminates a roughly four-year effort by the Rawles residents. It almost failed at the outset. When ROSN first went before the city in 2013, seeking permission to actually write a plan, Planning Commission turned the neighbors down. The residents had to appeal to City Council, which only approved them on a split vote. Both bodies were influenced by several disgruntled Mesa Road property owners, particularly those with vacant lots near 19th Street, who complained about a lack of communication from ROSN and a draft plan with a setback distance from the road that would have made development impossible on some lots.
       But for the final-plan process, ROSN rethought its approach. One change was reducing the proposed master-plan area, eliminating several properties closer to 19th. As for the included property owners, comments were sought on repeated occasions, according to James Kin, one of the project leaders. And the proposed setback was changed from a specific distance to one based on land contours - making it less restrictive.
       This evidence of compromise and conscientiousness helped ROSN win over Planning Commission in January, then council a month later.
       Councilmember Don Knight, whose District 1 area includes one side of Mesa Road, admitted having doubts going in but now believes that the new plan is “better for the city and the neighbors in the area.”
       Still, the 33rd parcel was a sticking point. Dr. Kristine Hembre, a property owner at the north end of the ROSN area, asked not to be included. There is history between her and several members of the ROSN group. They had successfully opposed her at City Council in 2009 - arguing for preservation of the neighborhood's rural character then as well - when she sought approval to build a subdivision on her five acres.
       “I'm not opposed to the master plan; I just don't want to be in it,” Hembre said.
       But Kin insisted that Hembre's land is needed because it's an “integral part of the neighborhood” and to leave it out would result in a “piecemeal” master-plan map.
       Tuck said he agreed.
       The actual zoning for her property, as well as the entire Rawles area, allows a maximum of two lots per acre. The Rawles Master Plan suggests just one per acre, which prompted Hembre's concern - that lower density rules will apply adversely if she submits a new development plan.
       But Councilmember Jan Martin, alluding to a master plan being only a guide, not a law, pointed out that its existence “doesn't prevent her [Hembre] from bringing a plan forward.”
       Still, the fact is that the plan Hembre proposed in '09, which the Rawles group convinced City Council not to support, would have met the one unit per acre goal - the neighbors were opposed to the way it looked.

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 3/8/15, updated 3/9/15; Land: Development Issues)

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