Last quiet days in Villa de Mesa
Gold Hill Mesa grading expected to start soon
It's quiet now (except for the occasional 4-wheeler). But Lana Wright, George Thomas and the other 23 households in Villa de
Mesa know it won't last.
Grading for the planned Gold Hill Mesa development - which will eventually close in on the long-isloated private subdivision - is tentatively scheduled to begin within a few weeks. After that, concept plans suggest that residential and commercial construction could continue over the next 5 to 10 years.
Not that Villa de Mesa residents didn't expect this to happen someday - an end to their peninsular seclusion as practically the only development in a one-mile stretch east of 21st Street between Bott Avenue and what is now Lower Gold Camp Road. Fact is, Thomas recounted, the area would have long since been covered with similarly designed southwestern-style townhomes if original developer George Steiner had been more successful in the early 1970s.
But townhomes were a fairly new concept in those days, and Steiner, owner of the first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in Colorado Springs, had a hard time finding buyers.
“They didn't go over, and he ran out of money,” said Thomas, who purchased one of Steiner's first homes in Villa de Mesa and helped form its homeowners association.
“And here we are,” added Wright, association president for the past 14 years, “25 of us.”
It wasn't for lack of trying that the rest of the property, just over 200 acres in size, never was developed in the years that followed. Developers just kept running into issues regarding the former gold mill on the site.
While such may sound romantic - and the soaring smokestack near Villa de Mesa recalls bygone days when Golden Cycle milled more than 13 million tons of Cripple Creek gold - the leftover tailings from that process still pose potential health problems.
Robert Willard, head of the group proposing Gold Hill Mesa, has had to prepare a separate plan for the Colorado Health Department explaining how his project will control the tailing dust (including cyanide from the milling process) that permeates the property.
Before him have been a series of development dreamers, some of whom believed they could extract the tailings' residual gold - value estimated at $100 million or more - and use that to cover project costs. The full extent of the tailings is not known, but they have been found as deep as 63 feet under Villa de Mesa, according to Willard.
The most recent proponent of the extraction idea was Australia Pacific Minerals NL, in the late 1980s. “The Australian group was going to buy us out or replicate us (build an identical subdivision elsewhere),” recalled Wright. “So we went looking for land. One place was Kissing Camels.”
“We did all this work,” Thomas continued the story, “and then the Australians bankrupted.”
Willard said he decided such a plan would not be feasible. With modern regulations related to extracting and transporting potentially hazardous materials, there would have been no real gain in the end, he told the Westside Pioneer.
Interestingly, under less-stringent environmental controls in the late 1960s, Steiner did not have to do anything special with the soils under Villa de Mesa. Golden Cycle had capped most of the property with dirt in 1950 (albeit, only after strong complaints from area residents about blowing dust), and this evidently was enough for that time.
As a result Villa de Mesa was built right on top of the Golden Cycle cap - or what was left of it. Unlike Gold Hill Mesa, where residents will not be allowed to dig into the soil cap, Villa de Mesa homeowners have planted flourishing grass, bushes and trees. If there were health problems, they have yet to make themselves known, according to Wright and Thomas.
Also, Thomas said the tailings make a terrific base for building construction. “They're very firm,” said the retired banker. “I don't have a crack in my foundation.”
The residents report mixed feelings about their imminent future. “We hate to lose our quiet privacy, but we knew this would happen eventually,” Wright said. “It's going to be a tough situation for us for several years, before they get the whole 210 acres developed.”
The activity level is going to pick up later this month or early September, according to Willard's plans. That's when he expects to start bringing in a daily squadron of grading equipment and water trucks for what could be a two-month effort to level about two-thirds of the property for future construction.
She and Thomas expressed appreciation for Willard's willingness to work with the neighborhood and concede that the development will be a “nice asset” to the city as a whole when it is done. At the residents' request, he's altered an original plan that would have incorporated Villa de Mesa into his project. Instead, he's not only agreed to funnel traffic away from its narrow, private streets, he plans to build a wall around the old subdivision to enhance its separation.
But after so many failed developments in the past, the Villa de Mesa residents won't believe this one until it gets into the ground. Willard received a previous concept approval from Planning Commission, but needs new approvals from that body and City Council before he can start building the 176 homes he's proposed for Filing 1 about a quarter of a mile north of Villa de Mesa. (He is allowed to start grading before the approvals under what is known as “developer's risk.”)
“If he can put it together, it looks like it will be a nice asset,” Wright said.
In the meantime, the residents are trying to have fun in their unique world. There's the nearby smokestack (which is to remain as part of the Gold Hill Mesa project). “We like to hit it with golf balls,” Wright said. “George has hit it a hundred times.”
This practice was not initially known to Willard, Wright added with a mischievous grin. “He was dumbounded. He didn't know where the golf balls had come from.”
Westside Pioneer Article