A controversial Colorado Springs development proposal is headed for the City Council after citizens groups this week appealed the Planning Commission's approval, citing concerns about traffic, impact to an adjacent wildlife refuge and a potential conflict of interest. In addition, many commissioners hadn't read the plan they approved.
On March 7, the Planning Commission unanimously approved Audubon Springs, a development proposed by property owners Rice & Rice and the GM&O Group. Located on 16 acres north of Airport Road and east of University Drive, it would include more than 80 single-family homes.
The Park Hill Neighborhood Association appealed the approval Monday, joined by the Council of Neighborhood Organizations, as well as the Aiken Audubon Society, which owns the Red Wing Sanctuary wildlife refuge directly east of the proposed development.
The property is considered difficult to develop in part because it lacks easy access from Airport Road. At an initial presentation in January, City Planner Paul Tice recommended that the Planning Commission deny the project, citing the access problems and numerous other concerns about drainage, buffering and landscaping.
As proposed, "this project would not result in a community benefit but rather would be destined to become an undesirable place to live and would have adverse impacts on the surrounding residential and commercial properties," Tice wrote.
The commission unanimously instructed Tice to work out the concerns with the developers and come back with a new presentation. He did so on March 7, telling planning commissioners that many of the concerns had been solved but that a number of conditions still needed to be imposed.
The commissioners attached 15 conditions to their approval, including requirements to provide emergency access for fire trucks, build fences, and plant trees to serve as buffers.
The developers also need to get an exemption from the Colorado Department of Transportation to gain access to the property from Airport Road, a state highway. The proposed access doesn't comply with state regulations because it's too close to other access roads.
Ken Sparks, an attorney representing the developers, declined to comment. Meanwhile, the groups fighting the development said it would increase traffic in an area that police have already identified as high-risk for accidents. And the Audubon Society fears that runoff from the development will increase water flow in Spring Creek, which runs through their refuge, upsetting the delicate balance of its ecosystem.
The groups are also concerned about the approval process, noting that Planning Commissioner Roy Clennan owns a piece of property in an adjacent neighborhood. Clennan, who voted for the development in January but was absent from the March meeting, didn't respond to several phone messages seeking comment.
However, Commission Chairman Cedric Johnson said Clennan had raised the potential conflict of interest and discussed it with a city attorney. Clennan concluded he had nothing to gain from the development and could therefore be impartial, Johnson said.
Meanwhile, the citizens groups also pointed out that the property owners submitted a revised development plan less than two days before the Planning Commission's meeting. As a result, neither commissioners nor citizens had a chance to review it.
Citing the late submission, Commissioners Val Snider and Jan Winkler moved to postpone the matter. After the motion was defeated 6-2, both Snider and Winkler voted for the development -- even though Snider later admitted in an interview, "I haven't seen the revised plan."
Snider said he wanted to send the plan to the City Council and "let them hash it out. ... I figured we'd had it long enough."
Johnson said it was OK that planning commissioners hadn't read the latest plan, because planning staff said the revisions weren't significant.
Marge McGovern, president of the Park Hill Neighborhood Association, said the commissioners seemed to have made up their mind in advance to support the development and didn't listen to neighbors' concerns. "We might as well have talked to the wall," she complained.
The City Council is scheduled to hear the appeal in late April.
-- Terje Langeland