Planning body OKs Sentinel Ridge project near Holmes; neighbors to appeal to council

       Colorado Springs Planning Commission approved the Sentinel Ridge development proposal Sept. 18, but neighbors opposing the project are writing an appeal that will put it before City Council.
       The Sunrise Company plans to build a gated community of 88 single-family homes on 28 acres southeast of Mesa Road and Fillmore Street. The commission agreed with City Planner James Mayerl's recommendation for approval. Even though the area currently has residential-estate zoning (a lower-density type, similar to many of the Mesa Road properties south of Fillmore), he told the commission that the Hill Master Plan encompassing the site has previously been approved for a density high enough to allow multifamily housing.
       Sunrise developer Dirk Gosda made a similar point at the beginning of his comments. “We could within the master plan build apartments on it,” he said, noting that the nearest properties have intensive uses (including apartments, an office complex and two schools). “We have an apartment company. But at this time we don't think that is the best use.”
       Based on the meeting, other controversial aspects are Sunrise's proposals to remove all the hillside overlay and part of the streamside overlay protection (which will allow grading to even out much of the land) and to build a Sentinel access onto Mesa Road just north of Holmes Middle School (which neighbors believe will worsen an already-difficult traffic problem at the start and end of school each day).
       In defense of the overlay changes, Gosda and Mayerl said that much of the protected area was previously “disturbed,” off-road vehicles drive on it now and it has no really important hillside features anyway. These points were disputed by some neighbors at the meeting, including Roger Maentz, leader of a group of Mesa Road neighborhood associations. Maentz said the best answer for trespassing off-road vehicles is to erect better fencing, not to remove hillside protection. He argued that the hillside overlay is deserved on the Mesa and if it is cast aside for Sentinel Ridge, developers could seek to remove it in “on even steeper sections of hillside overlay.”
       In answer to an ensuing Planning Commission question, Gosda indicated that he will probably be looking to remove the hillside designation on future development proposals within the Hill Master Plan area south of Fillmore.
       An argument for the streamside removal (at the upper end of the development only) was that the drainage currently lacks true “streamside characteristics,” according to Mayerl. The proposal is to pipe that part of the drainage (which is fed by a pipe under Fillmore Street) and cover it, thus allowing roads to be built between the two sides of the planned Sentinel development.
       “Most of the water there goes subterranean, then comes out farther south,” Gosda said. “The area we want to keep [which would be given a streamside designation] has cattails, russian olives and wetlands. So we said, 'Let's leave this area and take the areas that aren't as good and put houses there.'”
       Regarding the Mesa Road access, Gosda said that was Mayerl's idea - Sunrise had initially suggested just one access, east of the project, off Grande Vista Circle - and the company is open to other ideas for Mesa Road.
       A traffic consultant for Sunrise said he didn't think the development traffic (about 200 cars a day) would increase the Mesa Road traffic that much, but local resident Harvey McAnulty said that cars at school times back up now from the Holmes pedestrian crossing almost to Fillmore.
       Mayerl offered to facilitate a meeting with neighbors, the city and the school to look into the existing traffic problem around Holmes.
       Developer-funded public amenities in the project would include sidewalks and landscaping on both sides of Fillmore Street and on the east side of Mesa Road between Fillmore and Holmes, preservation of an existing hiking trail down to Sondermann Park and a widening of Mesa north of the school to allow left turn lanes for southbound Mesa and eastbound Friendship Lane.
       Gosda said he agreed to the sidewalk on the north side of Fillmore, in front of Coronado High, after he and Mayerl were driving past the school and saw a skateboarder riding along in a traffic lane. “I kind of lost that day,” he quipped.
       A berm and wall, topped by a wrought-iron fence, would be erected along the south side of Fillmore, behind the sidewalk, to serve as a sight and sound barrier for the Sentinel homes. It would also effectively block the view to the south for motorists along Fillmore. Other walls limiting visibility into the subdivision would be built along Vista Grande and Mesa Road.
       Only one Planning Commission member, Diann Butlak, opposed any of the five requests in the Sentinel submittal. She was OK with the master plan amendment that reduces the zoning in that area, but voted against the zone change, the planned unit development (PUD) plan on the full 45.6 acres (which includes 17.6 acres of private open space), PUD development plan for the 28 acres in what's called Filing 1 of Sentinel Ridge West, and final subdivision plat approval for the 88-lot Sentinel West. Butlak's main objection was to eight or nine lots that appeared to be too small and steep.
       None of the approving Planning Commission members expressed great enthusiasm for the proposal. “I'm not thrilled with how it's laid out,” Carla Hartsell said, but added, “I think you [Sunrise] made an effort to preserve the features that planners envisioned with the hillside overlay.” She framed the last comment with a recollection that the city's hillside overlay zones were determined fairly unscientifically in the early '80s, when they first came into being.
       Maentz said that the neighbors' decision to appeal (at the cost of $170) was unanimous after the meeting. The residents believe there is a “whole range of options” that have not been explored that could make the project less onerous to them, he said.
       The council meeting at which an appeal would be heard is not certain, but would probably be in October, Maentz said.
       Since the meeting, he said he has called Gosda, who agreed to talk with him about possible compromise solutions before City Council meets. Maentz said he was not sure how much that would accomplish, but “it's always better to work with someone rather than lob bombs at them.”

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