City Council overturns Planning Commission OK of Victorian Heights

       Colorado Springs City Council's wariness about future hillside problems doomed the Victorian Heights home-development proposal to defeat Sept. 26.
       Supporting the neighborhood's appeal of an August Planning Commission approval, council (except for Jerry Heimlicher, who was absent) voted unanimously against the project.
       The action ends a nearly six-year effort by property owner Ted Cox to create a workable development plan for a roughly 3-acre property at the base of a steep hill along Wilhelmia and Willamette avenues north of Uintah and 28th streets. During meetings with the neighborhood and City Planning officials going back to 2004, he had lowered the number of his proposed homes from 19 units to 12 (six duplexes). The idea was to donate the property to Habitat for Humanity for low-cost housing. Contacted after the meeting, Cox said he had no comment, nor did he have any new ideas for what to do with the property “at this point.”
       The project had been opposed by the existing neighborhood - virtually every household, based on a survey residents did this year. Oft-stated concerns were hillside integrity, traffic problems and loss of neighborhood character.
       The appeal had followed Planning Commission's project approval in August. The commission had determined that Cox had met the necessary requirements for the zone; the body had also been advised by a city attorney that as long as the city could prove its geohazard ordinances were being followed - deemed to be true in Cox's case - the city had no further responsibility for any future slope failure.
       Council members, however, did not seem comfortable with such a position (although nearly each comment was prefaced with words of praise for Habitat for Humanity). Several brought up the hillside issue, and Scott Hente, whose district includes that area, said he did not want to “burden a future council” with a repeat of the kinds of problems occurring at the Panorama Estates housing complex a few blocks to the east. That complex, built north of Uintah about 20 years ago, has shown signs of hillside slippage, resulting in expensive repair estimates for the current homeowners.
       “The risk out-weighs the benefit,” commented Vice-Mayor Larry Small, in his motion to support the appeal.
       Several citizens spoke against Cox's plan. These included Dave Hughes of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), who focused on the hillside issues. OWN also had provided Panorama Estates photos to council. Hughes echoed Jan Doran of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations (CONO), of which OWN is a member, in suggesting the developer take out an insurance plan for the future home-buyers to protect them in case of future hillside movement.
       Doran said she was aware of such policies having been written for other projects, but Cox said he was not.
       Larry Hudson, who has led the neighborhood opposition, said he had come around to the opinion that Cox's engineering plan to control hillside slippage would work, but still questioned the slope's integrity. He also called for a project with two fewer units so that the duplexes would not be so packed together, could have room for low garages instead of parking pads and would better match the current homes.
       Hudson and others have additionally argued that because of the nearby hill, the area's zone should had a hillside overlay (forcing more stringent development requirements) all along.
       The council action actually encompassed three votes - upholding the neighborhood's opposition first to Cox's development plan, second to his two variance requests, and third to his subdivision plat.

Westside Pioneer article