A vocal band of Mountain Shadows residents have launched a battle to keep a private school for the gifted and talented from building a new campus in their neighborhood.
The Renaissance Academy, a small 8-year-old private nonprofit school, wants to move from its current location on the city's West Side to the Hole in the Wall Ranch. The 22-acre piece of property is near Garden of the Gods Road and 30th Street.
The 19,000-square-foot school with a maximum of 120 students would be relatively small by comparison with nearby 49,000 square-foot Chipeta Elementary School. As part of the deal, the school has agreed to sign over 20 of the 22 acres to the city for open-space preservation.
But residents of the established Mountain Shadows neighborhood believe that the increased traffic traveling through their streets to and from the school will wreak havoc on their property values. Further, they argue, the master plan for Mountain Shadows has, since 1978, designated the Hole in the Wall Ranch property as a planned residential development, which they say would generate less traffic than a school.
City planners contend that the property is actually zoned as an agricultural parcel, which allows for schools and churches to be built. Despite the neighbors' vocal opposition, the city's planning department plans to recommend the school be approved when it goes before the planning commission on Aug. 9.
"Schools are typically in residential areas and, to me, a school belongs in a residential neighborhood," said senior city planner James Mayerl.
Inspired by magic
Renaissance Academy's director, Clayanna Killing, is out of town on vacation and couldn't be reached for comment. The school's Web site, however, indicates that school organizers believe the Hole in the Wall Ranch property would provide the "magic that will help us inspire our students to reach their full potential."
The school's attorney, Peter Susemihl, said his client has "done about everything they can to appease the neighbors, but some of them just don't want a school there."
"People are saying they'd rather have houses there, or maybe they're saying, 'We don't want any school that's not our [neighborhood] school,' " he said.
Dave Buckley, who has helped organize the neighborhood opposition, denies the neighbors are engaging in NIMBY behavior. "We have nothing against the school, nothing against their mission -- it's just misplaced," he said.
Buckley said virtually everyone who bought nearby property was told that the Hole in the Wall Ranch would eventually be developed as residential houses. Since 1978, there have been 16 amendments to the Mountain Shadows master plan, and all of them list the property as residential, he said.
"What's so frustrating to us as a neighborhood, is that the procedures are there and they are not going to follow them," Buckley said. "This is a prime example at an opportune time for the city to follow procedure and tell people exactly what they'll do."
Mayerl, however, questioned whether the property could ever be developed as multi-family residential. The property, he said, is very steep in places and access would be problematic. In addition, he said, the city's recently approved Comprehensive Plan shows the Hole in the Wall Ranch property as a candidate for open-space preservation.
The Academy, he said, has promised it will use two acres for the school, and will deed the rest of the property to the city via a preservation easement for open space. The school's parking lot, Mayerl said, would be used as a trailhead into the remaining property.
The traffic scientists
Susmihl downplayed the possibility of a dramatic increase in traffic. A traffic study funded by the Academy indicates that, compared with a residential development, the school would slightly increase traffic through the neighborhood in the mornings and afternoons, but traffic would decrease during the day and on weekends, holidays and during summers.
But the school's opponents insist that a residential development at the Hole in the Wall Ranch would actually generate less traffic than the school. They say the increase of traffic from the school would be an unfair burden on approximately 100 homes that would be negatively impacted.
"The worst part is they don't just want to open up the school but the land behind it to the public and draw people from all over the city to teach them about nature," said homeowner Ray Shae. "They say, 'How evil could we be to be against a school?'
"Well, what about the safety of our kids? Forty percent of this city is unbuilt -- can't they find anywhere else to build?"
Buckley said the neighbor's own traffic study shows that the school and trailhead would generate hundreds more car trips per day, all concentrated in two areas of the residential neighborhood.
"Imagine owning the house near a [19,000]-square-foot business with 120 kids," Buckley said. "What do you think will happen to the property values? It's just going to sink them."
Terry Pixley, an appraiser with 40 years experience in Colorado Springs who submitted a letter in support of the neighbors, said, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see if there is additional traffic on your street that is not your own traffic then the property values will decrease."