Colorado Springs City Council reversed course yesterday, Tuesday, Aug. 24 and voted 5-4 against rezoning for a controversial development on the northwest side of the city. Originally approved on its first reading in May, the measure was postponed in June until now.
The 2424 Garden of the Gods development would have added 420 dwelling units to a property that already has commercial uses. It’s located at an intersection near the Mountain Shadows neighborhood partially destroyed by the 2012 Waldo Canyon wildfire.
Residents voiced concerns during the public hearing about impacts to traffic, emergency evacuations and preserving the bighorn sheep herds in the area.
Councilman Richard Skorman originally supported the zoning change during an initial vote in May. This time, he was among those who voted no, although he said infill development is valuable.
“This reaches a threshold for me. It's just because it is right against the mountains. ... I can't support this kind of dense project right now in our WUI (Wildland Urban Interface) for health and safety reasons.”
Evacuation plans had been discussed during a council work session on Monday. On Tuesday, Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski, Fire Chief Randy Royal, and James Reid, Director of the Pikes Peak Regional Office of Emergency Management, addressed council during the public hearing for the development.
The three indicated they had a handle on evacuation plans, have improved interagency coordination since the Waldo Canyon fire and were not against the proposed development. They also pointed to the need for homeowners to mitigate fire danger on their properties, which could slow down the spread of wildfires and make it easier to protect homes.
Opponents said the evacuation plans were inadequate and wanted to see simulations of what would happen during various wildfire scenarios. Mountain Shadows resident Howard Donaldson spoke of his evacuation during the Waldo Canyon fire, saying a drive that normally took minutes took hours instead. He emphasized the need for evacuation model studies.
“Failing to plan is like planning to fail,” he said during the hearing. “Isn't that what Colorado Springs is on the verge of doing right now?”
The attorney for the developer, Steve Mulliken, said the proposed residential units would have created less traffic than any future commercial development currently allowed might. He also said the plans included 55 acres of open space on the 125-acre parcel.
Evacuation planning is not part of the current criteria for approving this type of project and Mulliken said it was “unfair and improper to impose a new criteria that's not on the books today.”
In the end, councilors Yolanda Avila, Randy Helms, Mike O'Malley and Wayne Williams supported the zoning change. Dave Donelson, Nancy Henjum, Bill Murray, Richard Skorman and Tom Strand did not.
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