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Neighborhood mixed on shelter plan


Many residents of a low-income neighborhood just south of downtown say they're willing to accept a one-stop homeless mall at the western edge of their community. But they remain worried that other plans linked to the shelter proposal could ruin their quiet, working-class neighborhood.

And some residents who feel they have not been treated fairly by the well-heeled backers of the shelter say they want proponents to begin negotiating with them in good faith over the value of their homes and costs related to their eventual relocations.

The proposed $6 million complex would be located on 3.9 acres of vacant land that's now part of the nearby Drake power plant. A separate, proposed day-care center for homeless families would result in the loss of four to six homes in the adjacent neighborhood.

And in exchange for allowing the American Red Cross to locate the shelter next to the plant, the city utilities department is hoping that shelter backers will help the city agency acquire homes to build a rail line through the neighborhood.

The rail spur would help Colorado Springs Utilities unload coal more cheaply at the Drake plant, but it would require the bulldozing of roughly a dozen homes along Baltic and Sierra Madre streets.

Local residents say the combined effect of the day-care center and the rail line could seriously hurt the neighborhood. "There's support for the homeless complex in the neighborhood," said Jeff Hovermale, an area resident. "But what we'd like to see is the elimination of the railroad spur, or a decision in the next few months on whether or not the [rail] project will be followed through on."

Hovermale and other residents voiced their concerns to backers of the project -- which include the El Pomar Foundation and the American Red Cross -- at a community meeting earlier this week, as well as at a meeting of the city utilities board last month.

But Utilities Director Phil Tollefson said it would be "premature" to withdraw the rail spur plan from the proposal. He also said that getting the rail spur is not a condition of providing land to the shelter project and that if the neighborhood doesn't want the rail spur, it won't be built.

"We're not going to cram anything down anyone's throat," he said.

Likewise, Red Cross Shelter Director Debbie Mitguard said even the day-care center idea "is not a done deal."

"The public participation process is just beginning," she said. "Now it's time for us to begin listening to the community to see what it needs from this process."

Many in the neighborhood already support the shelter proposal. "We do need a shelter in one place so homeless people aren't wandering all over the city searching for help," said Linda Dickinson, who has decided to sell her home on Conejos Street to make way for the child-care center.

But not everyone in the area agrees. "I bought my property as an investment; I'm never going to be able to sell it after this," said Emmett Killeavy, who's lived in the neighborhood for 20 years.

In the meantime, some residents whose homes would be affected by the proposed day-care center say that shelter realtors, Griffis-Blessing Inc., are not negotiating with residents in good faith despite public claims by shelter backers that they were "negotiating with residents."

"There's no negotiation going on," said Hovermale, who wrote a 9-page counterproposal in response toGriffis-Blessing's initial offer of 110 percent of market value plus moving expenses. In response, Hovermale got a 1-page reiteration of Griffis-Blessing's initial offer plus some additional moving expenses.

"In negotiation, I think two people have to be talking, making counterproposals," he said. "That's not happening here."

Ditto for fellow homeowner William Burke, who lives at 915 Baltic Street. "They're not negotiating," he said, adding that he's received no reply to the last offer he made to shelter realtors.

But Thayer Tutt, the president of the El Pomar Foundation, which is backing the shelter proposal with a $5 million grant, said realtors on the project are trying to accommodate the residents' needs.

For example, he noted that Griffis-Blessing had increased the amount of moving expenses promised to Hovermale due to concern over the cost of relocating his garden of rare plants.

"So the ball's in their court," Tutt said of the residents. "If they want to make an offer, all they have to do is pick up the phone."

But Hovermale said he took the small amount added to his moving expenses as a virtual dismissal of his counterproposal. For residents such as Burke, the treatment isn't fair.

"Everyone should leave with enough money in their pocket to get started somewhere else," Burke said. "Everything's for sale, but don't come down and try to steal from us."

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