When Don Meaney rebuilt his home in Parkside at Mountain Shadows, after the Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed it in June 2012, he included a big window in his second-story art studio. But now his view of the foothills is gone.
"I'm going to be looking at a stucco wall," he says, because of a neighboring house under construction.
On the other side of that house, Deb Zawacky will gaze out her kitchen window into a master bedroom.
Although both are 20-year returning residents who have paid attention in the fire's aftermath, they're powerless. City officials say the builder is entitled to erect a two-story home to replace the one-story that burned.
The issue underscores the dramatic change underway in Parkside, where the Waldo fire claimed about 140 of 178 homes. Since then, 77 lots have changed hands, records show, meaning some are moving in without a sense of the cottage feel that once defined Parkside. And homes up to 50 percent bigger than those destroyed by the fire are emerging in boxy designs that have left longtime residents unsettled.
Meaney and Zawacky say they should have been notified that the house next to them, at 5625 Majestic Drive, would have two stories. Zawacky says she's attended nearly every homeowners meeting since the fire and recalls being assured by the city that if major changes occurred in reconstruction, neighbors would be asked for feedback.
In some cases, that's happened. But not for her and Meaney. The two-story Majestic house will double in size, to 2,125 square feet — yet city planning director Peter Wysocki says in an email that's not a change worthy of triggering the notification of neighbors.
That's because when Parkside's original 1984 development plan was amended in 1987, one change was to allow a two-story home there, Wysocki says. When the fire occurred and the home's owner sold the lot to Synergy Homes LLC, the builder was entitled to rebuild with two stories, he says; it doesn't matter that a one-story house had been there since two years before the 1987 amendment was approved.
As for a 10-day appeal period, Wysocki says that lapsed after the building permit was issued March 17.
Meaney and Zawacky, who were expecting a one-story ranch to be built, say they weren't even aware a building permit had been issued until construction began in July.
Meaney says that when he tried to speak with Jim Howery with Synergy, Howery shrugged and said the taller home is allowed. Synergy Homes didn't return calls seeking comment, and the office address listed in state business filings has a "by appointment only" sign on its door.
Bigger, but better?
Parkside was initially built as a subdivision of clustered homes on lots of 4,500 square feet or less — some are only 3,100 square feet — where residents rely on a homeowners association to handle landscaping and other services.
Because the development plan limits height to 30 feet and the footprint to 40 percent of the lot, builders are replacing some other single-story homes with two-story houses. On Hot Springs Court, half of the six homes bordering the cul-de-sac have grown in square footage by more than 30 percent. One is 51 percent bigger. A pair of big square homes on another Majestic Drive cul-de-sac have been rebuilt up to 54 percent larger than their predecessors, prompting some residents to call them "the twin towers."
Terry Rector, who rebuilt his home, says the sizes are exaggerated by the small lots. "Because they're so compact, it really stands out," he says. "So what you end up with is big, boxy high-risers. ... It's goofy."
Sandy and Jack Morgan lived in Parkside years ago, left, and then decided to build there after the fire. Unlike homes around them, theirs replicates a ranch destroyed in the fire. The Morgans' builder was former City Council president Scott Hente, a partner in Robert Scott Custom Homes.
Hente is building his eighth and ninth houses in Parkside and has purchased another 12 lots. He says Parkside has lost its neighborhood feel, but it's not all bad. The new homes are more diverse than the old, he says, due to the large number of builders involved. And those builders are merely responding to a market demand for bigger homes.
Aware of the 5625 Majestic controversy, Hente says he probably would have consulted neighbors. "The last thing I want to do is have a new homeowner be at odds with his neighbors the day he moves in for no fault of his own," he says. "I would never want to put one of my potential customers in that situation."
Meaney and Zawacky, meanwhile, say what's especially hard to swallow is that the new home at issue reportedly is being built on speculation, meaning there's no buyer yet.
"This spec house," Zawacky says, "should not have more rights than two 20-year returning residents."