Pinery proposal goes before Planning Commission Oct. 18

       An effort to work out a compromise between a developer and a neighborhood regarding a proposed wedding/banquet center on Bijou Hill will be tested at a public hearing during the Colorado Springs Planning Commission Thursday, Oct. 18.
       The meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. in City Hall Council Chambers, 107 N. Nevada Ave.
       The applicant is Art Klein Construction, representing the Pinery at the Hill LLC. The plan is to replace an old restaurant structure - vacant for 11 years and decimated by looters and vandals - with a two-story facility that would attract weekend weddings and weekday conferences and business meetings. The actual address is 775 W. Bijou St.
       The Pinery owners have operated a similar center in Black Forest for five years and believe the 3½-acre hilltop site, with its grand views, would fill a local need and be commercially viable.
       Neighbors have raised a number of concerns, but the overriding issue could be whether the project as proposed is out of scale for the site, commented Meggan Herington, who is assigned to the project as the city's Land Use Review planner. For her part, she has recommended approval, believing that the Pinery group has met city requirements and that the conditions she has placed after meeting with developers and neighbors “should help mitigate any negative impacts.”
       However, she also states in her write-up to Planning Commission, “there is not a full consensus of agreement from the neighborhood on the conditions.”
       In any case, the appointed body will not have the final say. Because a zone change is part of the application, City Council is required to hear the matter at a later date.
       Herington's neighborhood-based conditions include:
       • No outdoor sound system.
       • Use limited to restaurant, wedding/banquet facility. No expo type events allowed.
       • No social clubs.
       • All light fixtures shut off by 10 p.m. or an hour after an event ends.
       • Southern lot only lit when in use.
       • All lighting directed away from adjacent properties.
       • Trash pickup between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.
       • Hours of operation 8 a.m. to midnight except 12 times a year when breakfast functions may begin at 7.
       • South patio use for ceremony functions limited to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
       Other accommodations include the Pinery agreeing to build a solid stucco wall (about 6 feet high) to separate the business from homes just to the north, along Bijou Street; to work with the city on street signage (to avoid lost Pinery-seekers motoring around the neighborhood); and to scrap initial plans to encircle the property with a chain-link fence. Herington said that one neighbor had said it would have made the hillsite look like a prison compound.
       A recently formed neighborhood group called the Bijou Hill Organization has sought to present residents' common concerns to the city. Some of those that group leader Ron Eby has submitted (not covered by Herington's conditions) are uneasiness about what types of events might meet the “banquet” definition, a dislike for the planned Pinery building appearance, potential problems with winter ice conditions near the Bijou Street access, no maximum noise level, smokers in the parking lot (fire risk), parking lot security and lack of financial assurances if the wedding center fails and winds up abandoned.
       The total building height will be 40 feet, which is 5 feet less than allowed under the zone being requested.
       The Pinery interest in the site goes back to 2008, when the group received city administrative approval to renovate the current building into a wedding center that would be smaller and open fewer hours. The neighborhood expressed few objections, pleased to see the blighted site being fixed up. However, the plan did not go through - Pinery co-owner Eric Allen has said the economic downturn was a big factor - and the property continued to sit vacant. The Pinery came up with the new plan over the past year, finding investors willing to put up $10 million to make the project happen, Allen said.
       The hilltop site is surrounded by older residential properties. One of these, neighboring to the south 122 Hill St., held one of the earliest homes in that part of town (1889). The Pinery bought the property, tore down the house in August and plans to use the site for parking.
       To level the property for a parking lot, a large retaining wall will be built across Hill Street (which currently dead-ends below the property). The developer will need to put low-water trees and bushes in a planter to be built in front of it so the wall does not stand out so much, Herington said.
       According to the Planning Commission agenda, the formal Pinery requests to the city are for:
  • A change of zone on .75 acre (the property with the torn-down house). The zone had been R2 (Two-Family Residential). It would change to PBC/CR (Planned Business Center with Condition of Record). The “condition of record” would allow a restaurant use only. (Because the city does not have a code for wedding/ event centers, Herington decided that the Pinery proposal, in terms of use types, comes closest to being a restaurant.)
  • A major amendment to the Pinery at the Hill development plan (the one approved in 2008). The amended plan illustrates multiple first- and second- floor building additions totaling 11,191 square feet. The total building square footage of both floors and outdoor patio areas is 20,968 square feet. (Note: The restaurant had been 13,403 square feet.) The development plan also allows a parking lot expansion on the .75 acre parcel.
  • A non-use variance to City Code Section 7.3.204 allowing a retaining wall over six feet high.

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