- Pam Zubeck
- Archer Park subdivision was approved for seven high-end homes.
At issue is a pasture in the Broadmoor area that soon could give rise to a verdant enclave of million-dollar homes called Archer Park, or, as some neighbors see it, a flood-water and traffic nightmare.
While it’s not unusual for City Council to encounter citizen outcry over developments of hundreds of homes or apartments, Archer Park covers only 4.7 acres. But the small development has drawn outsized opposition from dozens of neighbors who’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on studies, consultants and top environmental engineers to refute the developer’s claim the plan won’t flood adjoining properties and adjacent streets.
As Les Gruen, a consultant hired by the neighbors, says in an interview, “I thought this was going to be a pretty straightforward deal, and I ended up working on it for a year.”
Even the developer himself, Richard Delesk, acknowledged in an email to the Independent, “I have never seen anything like this opposition.
“This is well-funded NIMBYism against a development that is rigorously documented, thoughtfully planned and which has passed all regulatory hurdles with flying colors.”
But that’s not really the case. Although City Council OK’d the subdivision 7-2 on June 27, a final drainage plan remains in flux, and Council specified it must be approved by city planners before the final plat is recorded.
One player in the dispute is Dr. James Albert, a neighbor to the development who filed a lawsuit in July to upend Council’s decision. Albert also pointed out the drainage issues to the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which sued the city in November 2016 alleging violations of the Clean Water Act.
“Developers run the place,” Albert says. “They’re willing to flood out the neighbors.”
A horse pasture for years, the land was purchased in December 2016 by developer/builder Delesk’s Newport Co. for $700,000, according to El Paso County land records. He plans to subdivide the tract into seven single-family lots of at least 20,000 square feet each, which is consistent with some, but not all, surrounding home sites. Some are larger and many are the same size or smaller.
Delesk’s consultants held a community meeting in June 2016, which drew 35 people, and another in October, when 90 people attended. Neighbors identified a menu of reasons to oppose Archer Park, including density, firefighter access, utility easements, and traffic and stormwater management.
“I thought this was going to be a pretty straightforward deal, and I ended up working on it for a year.” click to tweet
Neighborhood opposition prompted the developer to seek a hearing before the city’s Planning Commission, which ordinarily wouldn’t hear the matter unless opponents appealed the Planning Department’s administrative approval. After hours of discourse on May 18, planning commissioners approved the plat 7-1. Opponents then appealed to City Council, which heard the item on June 27.
During a hearing that reached into the evening hours, four people spoke in support of Delesk, who’s built more than 500 homes in 38 years in Colorado Springs.
David Schroeder, who hired Delesk to build his home in the Broadmoor area, vouched for his “phenomenal” integrity. “Rick wasn’t just concerned about myself,” he said. “He was interested in adding to the value of the community.” Real estate agent Jack Gloriod said Delesk has built several homes for him and is “an excellent builder — honest — and I know he’ll build a very quality product.” Another, Howard Donaldson, told Council that Delesk replaced his home that was destroyed in the Waldo Canyon Fire. “Anyone who has misgivings about the Newport Company delivering what they say they will deliver, please put those to rest,” he said.
But those who live close to the property are skeptical. While their chief concern is stormwater control, they also oppose the subdivision’s private road being only 20 feet wide without curbs and gutters.
Safety criteria determine width based on length, and the length of the road, which ends in a dead-end turn-around, is measured differently by the developer and neighbors, who say the street should span 26 feet. “The interior width of your garage is the width of the road,” Michael Roslin told City Council on June 27. “In my opinion, it’s not a safe picture.”
Albert’s concern about the 20-foot road accommodating delivery trucks, emergency vehicles and a possible fire evacuation prompted Councilor Bill Murray to ask, “You’re saying we’re putting everyone at risk for seven houses? I spent 121/2 years as a firefighter, sir, and you’re cherry-picking information that I disagree with.”
Albert noted to Council he’d spoken with firefighters who told him the developer had been asked to widen the road to 26 feet. “It seems like a developer’s desire of maximum density is taking precedence over safety of the neighborhood,” Albert said.
When Councilor Jill Gaebler asked why the street won’t be wider, Kristin Heggem, a landscape architect with Altitude Land Consultants, hired by the developer, said, “We didn’t want the street wider, because we wanted to keep the road narrow, and it winds a little bit. You might think of it as a road diet. If you narrow a road, it calms traffic and lowers speeds. It’s a different way of thinking.”
Gaebler approved, saying, “I know we share values around infill developing and road dieting. I’m a huge supporter.” Why not build sidewalks, Gaebler then asked.
“We feel we don’t need sidewalks,” Heggem said. “People can walk along the north side of that road just fine.”
The issue of road width was essentially settled by Fire Marshal Brett Lacey, who told Council, “We’re very comfortable with the layout and design. As far as the Fire Department is concerned, we have no issues with the development as proposed, which is why we recommended its approval.”
More problematic, neighbors say, is the drainage plan, or lack thereof, at the moment.
Gruen, owner of Urban Strategies consulting firm, represents about 30 neighbors, who chipped in to fund the opposition, says neighbor Diane Matsinger.
- Pam Zubeck
- James Albert notes a study shows runoff soaking his lot.
One of those engineers is Jonathan Steeler, with Senn Visciano Canges P.C. of Denver. “We do not believe those [drainage] plans come anywhere close to the drainage criteria,” Steeler told Council. “But that hasn’t gotten through. This is surprising to me, given the EPA lawsuit against the city. One of the primary issues raised [in the lawsuit] is that the city has not been complying with its own drainage criteria. We think this is a prime example of why that’s not happening. We’ve had four versions of this drainage plan delivered, and in each case it was slightly more compliant but never reached compliance. My clients were forced to engage me, an engineer, at great cost to do what should have been done by the city staff and wasn’t done.”
Gary Thomas, an engineer with Martin/Martin Consulting Engineers of Lakewood, another firm hired by the neighborhood group, said Delesk’s drainage study relied heavily on a 1987 drainage report when conditions were different and drainage criteria differed as well.
Hence, the plan doesn’t account for off-site rainwater runoff flows. Though Delesk proposes a drainage swale — a type of ditch — through the subdivision to convey water to a detention pond, Thomas told Council the swale lacks capacity to handle flows, meaning water will inundate neighboring properties and streets. The pond, too, is too small, he said, adding, “A lot of water breaching and going north and east does not go through the pond, and the conveyance elements are improperly sized. This 1-foot-deep ditch needs to turn into a 3-foot-deep ditch.”
Noting 36-inch-diameter pipe flowing into the detention pond relies on an 8-inch pipe for discharge, Thomas said, “Common sense says it doesn’t work” and will lead to overflows onto neighboring properties and streets.
“We have a design that does not follow the intent of the criteria, nor the mechanics or the particulars as well,” he said. “These plans have been submitted four times. There’s such major inconsistencies and deviation from the criteria, it’s beyond me why your staff in the city has been asked to accept this development. It’s not technically founded. It has serious conceptual issues.”
- Pam Zubeck
- The corralled area is the detention pond site.
- Courtesy El Encanto Neighbors
- The corralled area was serving that drainage purpose without a pond on Sunday after about 1.5 inches of rain fell in the vicinity.
City Engineer Travis Easton took issue with claims city staffers didn’t do their job, but advised Council, “There are still issues that we’re working through [on the drainage plan].”
While Steve Rossoll, who provides oversight of city stormwater issues, said the 36-inch culvert “is correctly sized based on applicant’s engineers’ calculations,” he also acknowledged he hadn’t “digested” the M/M report yet and repeated that the plat can’t be recorded, clearing the way for construction, until the drainage report is approved. Still, Rossoll noted, “When we recommend an approval of a plat prior to approval of a drainage report, we are recognizing there are no deal-breakers.”
In the end, Council voted 7-2 to approve the plan pending submission and approval of a final drainage plan, with Council President Richard Skorman and Councilor Yolanda Avila opposed.
Skorman said the development was too dense, 20 feet between houses wasn’t enough, the road was too narrow and the size of the detention pond was in question. “We haven’t gotten those answers yet,” he said. “We should figure out how to make this project less of a burden, have less questions. Let’s get to the right answers. Maybe the neighbors could work with the developer. I can’t support it until that process is done.”
A month later, the neighbors haven’t lost their outrage. One of them, Matsinger, while driving this reporter around the neighborhood, recounts the arduous effort to monitor the process. “The applicant changed the drainage report four times,” she says. “He was changing it up to the point of the city appeal, then changed it again, and the neighbors didn’t get it until six days before the Council hearing.”
She doubts the developer’s plan will prevent stormwater from racing through the neighborhood and wonders, “Is this really what the city intended? Planning [staff] is making the city’s stormwater problem worse.”
“Is this really what the city intended? Planning [staff] is making the stormwater problem worse.” click to tweet
Bill Kosar, who lives about a block east of the pond site, also expressed reservations. “You’re going to have water blasting out of that pipe,” he says. “The city really wants to get the [EPA] suit dismissed, but it seems they’re not serious. You can’t ask for a lawsuit to be dismissed if you’re not even following your guidelines.”
The deepest pocket for funding the opposition is reportedly that of Albert, whose 1.2-acre property sits immediately east and southeast of the proposed pond. He’s obviously the bane of Delesk. In written responses to the Indy’s questions, Delesk refers to the neighbors as “Albert et al,” and describes their strategy as “shopping a tale of woe ... in hopes something will stick” while being “willing to use any conceivable method to stop it.”
Albert, interviewed in his backyard recently, leafs through M/M’s engineering report and points to a big blue mass depicting stormwater draining onto his property from Archer Park. “We thought the city staff was there to be an independent analyzer of the plan and make sure the neighborhood was protected,” he says. “It was a complete dog and pony show and they didn’t hear a single thing we said. They don’t care. Everyone’s bending over backward to make it happen for [the developer].”
Albert isn’t giving up, though. He filed a lawsuit on July 25 against the city and the developer, seeking reversal of Council’s decision. He’s also notified the EPA and state about the case, and talked with U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn’s staff. Lamborn has said he’s lobbying the EPA to drop the lawsuit against the city.
Lamborn’s spokesperson Jarred Rego told Albert via email that a meeting was held the week of July 17 with himself, a Lamborn aide, Mayor John Suthers’ Chief of Staff Jeff Greene, and city stormwater manager Richard Mulledy. Rego tells Albert he’s now “satisfied” the city will assure the developer’s plan won’t increase flows, will meet city drainage rules and will size the pond correctly. He also said the city will include M/M “in the information process,” and that Mulledy promised to host a neighborhood meeting “to share the most current and transparent information possible.”
So, as Gruen observes, the neighbors seem to have grabbed the city’s attention, which he hopes leads to a fully compliant drainage plan.
“If things play out, and it is determined that, in fact, ... there were some egregious errors, that sort of thing would have some influence on the EPA,” he says. “We’re going to have to see how this thing plays out.”