The Colorado Springs Planning Commission voted Thursday to delay a decision on hundreds of apartments and new businesses proposed at the west end of Garden of the Gods Road after listening to hours of residents’ objections, such as how the project could obstruct views, increase gridlock in a wildfire evacuation and cause light and noise pollution.
The Mountain Shadows Community Association organized opposition to the project by submitting a petition with thousands of signatures, encouraging people to call in and oppose the project and hiring a lawyer who spoke to the commission about a lack of specificity in the developer’s application.
The commissioners agreed insufficient detail was provided by the developer’s representative Andrea Barlow and asked her to provide more on the size and locations of new buildings planned along 30th Street in front of the office complex at 2424 Garden of the Gods Road. The board also asked for an analysis of how the development could impact a wildfire evacuation.
The commission will rehear the request to rezone the property, change the Mountain Shadows master plan and approve a concept plan on March 18.
Commissioner John Almay noted that the vague concept plan was likely contributing to confusion and mistrust among the neighbors. He also said that while the foothills west of the property are not part of the Garden of the Gods Park they are rugged and compelling and rezoning the property in front of them was an important opportunity to involve the public in the process.
“The industrial use of the place was done with great consideration of the surrounding land and views. … It largely blends in,” he said.
The developer expects to build 240 apartments or 200,000 square feet of commercial buildings on 11 acres directly in front of the office building along 30th street, Barlow said. On 15 acres on the northwest corner of 30th Street and Garden of the Gods Road, developers could build 210 apartments, she said. The buildings could be 45 feet high, which has concerned neighbors worried about losing views of the foothills.
The ridgeline directly west of the property will remain open space and allow free movement of the area’s bighorn sheep, Barlow said. The 750,000 square feet in existing office space, formally home to MCI Communications, would stay in place under the current proposal, Barlow said.
A concept plan for 2424 Garden of the Gods shows the parcels in yellow that could become the future home of apartment complexes.
The buildings will sit on existing parking lots below the office complex because of the natural geography of the 125-acre campus, she said.
“These units will be screened from the neighborhood by the existing building,” she said.
The 450 potential apartments would generate an additional 2,203 daily car trips, traffic that could be absorbed by the surrounding roadways, traffic engineer Mike Rocha said.
However, several residents shared worries with the board that additional homes in the area would make evacuating even harder than it was during the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire when thousands were caught in gridlock. They also noted the fire danger is ever-present, pointing to the 5-acre brush fire that ignited Wednesday afternoon on 30th Street.
Fire Marshal Bret Lacey said he didn’t see a problem with adding homes because the department would manage a fire better after the lessons learned from the Waldo Canyon fire.
“I don’t believe we have an issue with regard to capacity of roadways,” he said.
Planning Commissioner Scott Hente disagreed with Lacey. As a Mountain Shadows resident who lived through Waldo Canyon and would evacuate via northern routes, he seemed to sympathize with residents’ safety concerns.
“I understand what happens during a wildfire evacuation. … I cannot support this project,” he said.
In addition to wildfire risk, many residents shared concerns about the overall densification of the area that is seeing significant tourist traffic generated by the Garden of the Gods.
Gary Andersen called on the commissioners not to fill every inch of the west side, especially on a site that is already generating significant noise.
“We have a chance here to draw a line,” he said.
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