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City planning in a mapping muddle



With the city nearing completion of a new Comprehensive Plan that will frame how Colorado Springs grows for the next 20 years, public safety advocates are arguing that the proposed map that would identify areas of unstable land and moving soils is inadequate.

The map appears in the portion of the plan that makes mitigation and/or avoidance of geohazards -- which include unstable soils, landslide and unstable soil caused by old mines -- a mandatory part of the development-approval process.

Jim Lockhart of the Sierra Club and Jan Doran of the Council of Neighborhood Organizations (CONO) say the map, which was compiled by city planners, does little in the way of locating geohazards. They want it replaced with a more thorough map, called the Robinson map, which was published by El Paso County in a 1980 planning information sourcebook.

"Put the city map and the Robinson map side-by-side," said Lockhart. "Where the one is almost blank, the other is dense with information."

"Not a week goes by where we don't hear of land-suitability controversies or developments destroyed by geohazards," Lockhart said. "We need the most accurate, specific and comprehensive map available, and the city's map isn't that map."

City Council members Ted Eastburn and Richard Skorman agree.

"The Robinson map is better," said Eastburn. "It does a lot better job of reflecting the conditions that warrant development constraint and hazard mitigation."

Said Skorman, "[The Robinson map] gives homebuyers a better picture of problems linked to developing problem areas."

City engineers and planners argue, however, that the Robinson map can't be used because it hasn't been computerized in a way compatible with the city's Geologic Information System. "We only use maps that we're able to update," said city Planning Manager Quinn Peitz.

During a presentation earlier this month, the City Council agreed to compromise and let city planners use the map they want, but required that the Robinson map be referenced in footnotes.

This week, however, Peitz told the Independent that the city has landed a $20,000 grant from the Office of Emergency Management for the purpose of computerizing the Robinson map in a manner comptable with the city's system.

The Office of Emergency Management, however, subsequently claimed Peitz' announcement is premature. Department director Donna Fair said the project will cost more than $20,000 -- possibly much more -- and that extensive technical discussions will be necessary between various city departments to determine if the project is even doable.

"We aren't close to knowing whether everyone is on board and if this will happen," she said.

Doran, Lockhart and Skorman said that the city's ostensible willingness to use the Robinson map suggests a change in orientation toward regulating development on hillside areas.

John Himmelreich, a local geologist and member of the State Hazards and Mitigation Council, notes that the city declined an opportunity to incorporate the Robinson map into its comprehensive plan back in 1980, and has refused to adopt it several times since.

But, according to Skorman, "We're more aware of and concerned about geologic hazards than at any time in the past 30 years, that's for sure."

"We're not perfect by any means," Eastburn said, "but we're getting a lot more aggressive about no-build and mitigation efforts in geohazard areas, and I submit that we're going to get a lot more aggressive about it in the future."

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