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City Council OK's Sentinel Ridge, rejects church's plea to relax usage restriction

       Despite objections from a land developer and property buyer that it would make the site “unmarketable,” City Council sided with a group of traffic-conscious Mesa Road residents June 24 to restrict the zoning at the southeast corner of Fillmore and Mesa to a church site only.
       The dispute was related to requests by the Sunrise Company, doing business as Garden of the Gods Club LLC, for plan and zoning approval that would allow construction on a 45.5-acre parcel south of Fillmore Street it has named Sentinel Ridge.
       Council otherwise approved the requests, which will allow construction of 21.8 acres of single-family homes, 7.7 acres of multi-family, 7.7 acres for a human-services facility and 8.3 acres for a church. On the southeast part of the acreage, included in the two residential areas, is a designation for 15 acres of open space, according to Lonna Thelen, the city planner assigned to the LLC submittal.

The approved concept plan uses colors to show Sentinel Ridge's different elements. In purple are the two zones set as OC/cr (Office Complex with conditions of record) - meaning they have restrictions from the normal OC zone, as defined in the article. The designated OC/cr church site is at lower left, at the southeast corner of Fillmore Street and Mesa Road; the OC/cr human service facility is off Fillmore and Grand Vista Circle. The lighter yellow area (marked as "R1-6000") indicates the area designated for single-family homes of at least 6,000 square feet. The darker tan (upper right) is zoned for multi-family homes off Grand Vista. The green area denotes open space.
Courtesy of Colorado Springs Land use Review
       It was the church site that sparked contention during council's Sentinel Ridge consideration. First Evangelical Free Church has a contract with the LLC to buy the property and has announced the intent of relocating there someday. However, as a “matter of prudence,” the long-time Westside worship center would like to have the fallback option of selling and "this is an unmarketable property if our plans don't work out," explained First Evangelical spokesperson Don Wilkin, who identified himself as a 40-year member of the church.
       He even hinted that without such a fallback the purchase plan could be in jeopardy. “We would appreciate some light at the end of the tunnel,” he told council before the vote, “so that those people of our congregation - who are unanimously in favor, by the way - begin asking questions, 'Well, what if.' That's our point we're trying to make.”
       First Evangelical has existed since 1890, with the past 65 years on the Westside. Wilkin has previously said that facilities at the current 30th-and-Fillmore site are getting crowded and the new site would quadruple the present space. But costs are a concern for the 300-member congregation, and he's predicted five years at least to raise the necessary construction funds.
       Council's decision supported the recommendation of the City Planning Commission at its meeting in May. Council has the final say on zoning.
       Council President Keith King, speaking for what turned out to be the majority, offered a form of solace to Wilkin: “I would say to the church that I would like to see you reach out to your [new] neighbors and have them come to your church and grow your congregation. Maybe you can double it.”
       The church-only decision was led by City Councilmember Jan Martin, who lives in a development of relatively small-lot, private-access homes at the northwest corner of Fillmore and Mesa. She described the church site at the southeast corner as a “really important corner. It's important what goes there.”
       The zone for the church site is called Office Complex (OC). City Code lists 38 potential OC uses, including retail. Through discussions with city staff and the neighborhood before Planning Commission, the LLC had cut those uses down to 25, including the removal of retail. But the commission, swayed by a group of Mesa Road neighborhood leaders that traffic problems would result if anything but a church was built on the Fillmore/Mesa southeast corner, voted that way. Four of them also spoke at council.
       The Mesa Road neighbors have fought the city previously on development proposals between Uintah and Fillmore that they feel disrupt their mostly large-lot, semi-rural lifestyle. Their traffic complaints often note (and did again June 24) the twice-daily, pickup-and-dropoff glut of cars at Holmes Middle School, which is just south of the potential church site).
       At council, Susan Wood-Ellis, representing the LLC, proposed adding back one use on the church site that the City Code would otherwise allow in an OC zone: single-family residential. In fact, she (as well as Thelen) noted that the previous zone for the entire Sentinel Ridge acreage - a flexible type of zone called planned unit development - had been set for the purpose of building single-family homes.
       That zone had been established by a vote of City Council in 2009 at the request of the Garden of the Gods Club LLC then as part of a plan to build 88 houses on the 45.5 acres. But no construction ever occurred, and the LLC returned this year with a new proposal that includes selling about a third of the property. One buyer is the church, the other is the Mainstreet company (which also has a signed contract with the LLC).
       Elaborating on the LLC's single-family vision for the southeast corner, Wood spoke of smaller lots, duplexes and townhomes.
       This scenario, with its potential traffic impacts, was seized upon by Mesa Road-area resident Rich Serby. Saying he represented 69 property owners (although he did not present a petition), Serby started by announcing that those people “are 100 percent in support of our church friends.” This is because church traffic typically only gets heavy on Sundays, when other traffic normally is light.
       However, Serby went on, “we're hearing about townhomes and duplexes. In 2009, we were prepared for 88 single-family units. That would have had a significant impact on what we already feel is a significant problem with traffic.” So to allow homes as an alternate use now might mean the neighborhood not having as much involvement in later negotiations should development plans wind up going that way, he reasoned. “So I think we need something in the future to have that discussion. We want to be part of that. If we start loosening that now, we may not be.”
       In her comments, Martin also said she was impressed by the fact that “stringent negotiations” with neighbors had been held in the months before council. "Everyone agreed at Planning Commission to move forward," she summarized, in apparent reference to the 8-1 vote on all seven LLC requests.
       Val Snider, supporting Martin, described the church-only restriction as a “compromise everyone could live with.”
       The church-only vote was 7-2, with Councilmembers Joel Miller and Andy Pico opposed. Miller had a different take on the word “compromise,” using it to describe his idea of just leaving the site with its 2009 zone until the church eventually came forward with a building proposal.
       Council's additional votes, all in keeping with Planning Commission's recommendations, were to approve an amended Garden of the Gods Club Master Plan (which Sentinel Ridge is a part of), an amended concept plan (for what's described as "Sentinel Ridge Phase I"), a development plan for Mainstreet and three other zoning changes.
       One of those zone changes was for the 7.6-acre parcel on which the Mainstreet human-services facility is to be built several hundred feet east of Mesa Road on Fillmore Street (across from Coronado High). Like the church location, the Mainstreet site has an OC zone; however, neither the Mesa Road neighbors nor City Council objected to its retaining 25 potential, non-retail OC uses.

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 6/25/14; Community: Westside Community Center)

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