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Unwelcome guests

Private developers are getting in on UCCS' expansion — and leaving some neighbors cold



Like flies to honey, developers have been flocking to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, one of the state's fastest-growing universities.

In fall 2004, UCCS had just 7,668 students. Ten years later, that had ballooned to 11,147. The growth has left UCCS scrambling to provide student housing and more (see "Other projects"). In fact, a major dorm expansion is underway.

But developers, many of them from other states, aren't waiting for UCCS to fill the housing gap — they're proposing and building high-end apartment buildings that cater to students.

Take the recently opened complex The Lodges of Colorado Springs, which features 156 apartments with 616 bedrooms, plus a lodge-like commons, a pool, gym, hot tub, sauna, steam room, study areas and a game room. Or Mountain Lion Village Townhomes, parts of which could open as soon as this fall; it lists a tanning booth among its amenities. There are also two proposed projects aimed at students: the Lookout on Cragmor, a five-story, 71-unit complex with 157 bedrooms, and Bates Student Housing, a 358-unit complex with 619 bedrooms, which will range in height from three to five stories.

"Private dorms are not that unusual," UCCS spokesperson Tom Hutton says.

Hutton adds that the university doesn't take a position on such projects. Neighbors, however, aren't so diplomatic.

Philip Sidney and Brian Herbert have both owned homes on Rimwood Drive for about 30 years. They're upset about the proposal for Lookout on Cragmor, which they fear will drive traffic into their neighborhood, create a fire risk, add to noise, take away from the natural beauty of the area, and look out of place.

"Here's a beast of a building showing up in a backyard," Herbert says.

Both men went to the City Planning Commission meeting where the project was approved. They declined to pay $176 to file a formal appeal because neither thought it would make a difference. The project has since been approved by City Council.

City Planner Steve Tuck says the project didn't raise red flags on any points the neighbors brought up, though zoning in the area was changed to accommodate it. Approving the change wasn't a hard call, since UCCS, which, as a state entity, does not have to adhere to city zoning, is already expanding into the area and acquiring homes on the nearest street, Cragmor Village Road.

One of the homes in the area belongs to Damian Bedford's family — his grandfather bought it in 1937. He says he's resigned to the idea that he'll eventually be forced to sell to the university, and sounds nonplussed about a private developer moving into the neighborhood.

"The university has been taking whatever it wants, when it wants, so it's not a big surprise," he says. "It's just, we thought we'd have a little more say since [this time] it's a private contractor."

Kansas-based Newsome Development and Investments, Inc., which is proposing the housing project, declined to discuss it until it's "through the entitlement process."

Meanwhile, Bates Student Housing is early in the approval process, its development plan having gone to the city for review on April 29. Since the project is in line with current zoning, it won't have to be approved by the Planning Commission or City Council if city staff decides to approve it — unless formal appeals are filed.

City Planner Lonna Thelen says around 150 people showed up to an early meeting on the project, and she's received many emails from people in the neighborhood. Most have cited concerns, ranging from traffic to noise to the size of the structure. Many are also upset that Katharine Lee Bates Elementary School, which closed a few years ago, would be torn down. Another neighborhood meeting on the project was scheduled for May 19, after the Independent's deadline.

A call to Chicago-based GG Land Group, LLC, which is proposing the project, was not returned.

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