City: Plumbers yes, crafters no
Affordable’s appeal wins in Midland area

       In a reversal from Planning Commission, Colorado Springs City Council voted unanimously Oct. 11 to grant a variance for Affordable Plumbing & Heat in an old commercial building in the Midland neighborhood.
       The decision was a relief for Affordable's owners, Heidi and Greg Smith, who had paid roughly a quarter of a million dollars for the half-acre property at Market and Broadway streets before Planning Commission's rejection Sept. 15, and admittedly faced a financial challenge if council had voted against them.
       The decision includes requirements that Affordable pave its parking lot, provide landscaping, install outside lights that won't glare into the neighborhood and not have guard dogs. The owners have also agreed to put in sidewalks at the corner property. The business is to have five employees and no retail activity.
       Council members were clearly swayed by the 11 citizens, most of them nearby residents in the Midland area, who stepped up to the podium to voice their support for the business. The supporters noted their trust in the Smiths and their anticipation of a productive, unobtrusive use in a building that has sat vacant for about four years and become a negative attractor to wayward neighborhood youths.
       One of the supporters, Midland resident Pam Staley, said the issue additionally revealed a problem with the city's 25-year-old Westside Plan, and she offered to help rework it. The plan's land-use map shows virtually the entire neighborhood as residential - ignoring a longstanding history of commercial and industrial uses mixed in, she pointed out. An example is the Smiths' building, which has always had a commercial use, but needed a variance because it is zoned residential.
       “We have a lot of people in the area that have businesses,” Staley said. “We want our businesses.”
       In moving to uphold Affordable's appeal, Councilman Tom Gallagher said that whoever zoned the Affordable site (back in 1971) was clearly ignorant of Midland's tradition. “It has everything from livestock to automotive to single-family and industrial uses,” he said. “It's neat. It's the heart of the Westside.”
       No one appeared in opposition to the Smiths' appeal, although a letter from an absent opponent, who reportedly had gathered four signatures on a petition against the project, was read into the record. The letter warned that approving the variance could start a regression back to pre-Westside Plan days when Midland was overrun with incompatible commercial uses.
       By contrast, Affordable attorney Tim Schutz displayed a petition from Midland-area residents that he said had more than 80 signatures in favor.
       “Thank you to all the wonderful people we've met in the neighborhood during this process,” Heidi Smith said toward the end of the meeting, “and to the residents we already knew who came to support us.”
       The outpouring of support had first manifested itself at a neighborhood meeting last week, following the Sept. 8 Planning Commission meeting at which no one in favor appeared. Asked about that anomaly by Mayor Lionel Rivera, City Planning Director Bill Healy said the variance had a planning staff recommendation and thus “there was some anticipation it would be granted.” As a result, at Planning Com-mission, with no one speaking in favor, members were swayed by two Midland residents who spoke in opposition as well as by two members of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), who later said they thought they were supporting the neighborhood position and the intent of the Westside Plan.
       The meeting revealed a schism over the issue within OWN, a 27-year-old volunteer Westside neighborhood advocacy group. After the neighborhood meeting, OWN Vice President Rose Kliewer had submitted a letter to the city on OWN letterhead stating that the OWN board would support the variance if the applicants agreed to a condition that if the property changes hands, a variance hearing would have to be held for the new user.
       However, OWN President Jim Fenimore spoke in support of the Smiths without asking for that condition (nor did Gallagher, in his motion). Fenimore, who has been out of town, told council “it was the other board members who put that (the letter) together… I don't want anyone to think that OWN is trying to push them around. I want what's best for the community.”
       Kliewer said after the meeting she was disappointed that Gallagher hadn't included OWN's condition because she felt it would have helped protect residents from any future, less popular uses in the building. She said Gallagher's attitude is that “it's just Midland, we don't need protection for Midland. He thinks anything should go there, I guess.”
       The 3,200-square-foot warehouse-style building on the half-acre property will be internally divided to provide offices, storage and a garage, plans show.
       The council meeting was not without light moments. One of the variance supporters, Derry Gleason, referring to the postcards the city sends out to residents who live near proposed developments, suggested that in the future the cards ought to emphasize that support for a project is encouraged as much as objection. Later in the meeting, what she said was praised as a “phenomenal comment” by Councilman Scott Hente, a home-builder. “For someone whose livelihood depends on those cards going out and people not objecting to them, it would be nice if every now and then they said it was OK,” he told Gleason. “You keep talking like that, I'll get you an honorary membership in the HBA (Homebuilders Associ-ation).”
       At another point, Councilman Jerry Heimlicher expressed appreciation for the Smiths waiting so long for the issue to be discussed. (The meeting began at 1 p.m. and the item did not come up until after 7 p.m.) “I know how much you folks charge by the hour, so it's been a very expensive day for you,” Heimlicher said.
       At this, Gallagher inquired, “Are you talking to the plumber or the lawyer?” The entire council chambers filled with laughter for several seconds before the meeting resumed.

Westside Pioneer article