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Affordable housing project survives another round against Broadmoor Bluffs association

January 18, 2018 Updated: January 19, 2018 at 6:14 am
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The Ridge apartments - for which land has already been purchased - aim to help address a critical affordable housing shortage in El Paso County. (Artist rendering)

A proposed low-income housing development survived one challenge Thursday, but another is brewing from its Broadmoor Bluffs neighbors.

The Colorado Springs Planning Commission voted 6-2 to deny the Broadmoor Bluffs Neighborhood Association's bid to overturn city planners' approval of The Ridge apartments' development and plat plans.

Afterward, Cynthia Grey, the association's treasurer, said the commission's decision would "absolutely" be appealed to the Colorado Springs City Council.

The vote marked the latest chapter in a yearlong saga for the proposed apartments, which have faced stiff opposition from the surrounding neighborhood. The association says its opposition is aimed at ensuring the safety of The Ridge's future tenants and its neighbors, but some have criticized the group for appearing to take a "not in my backyard" stance.

The $14 million, 60-unit complex is planned for a vacant lot behind a Safeway store at South Academy Boulevard and Colorado 115. The same number of condominiums were planned for the site about 15 years ago, before the project fell victim to the Great Recession.

Colorado Springs nonprofit Greccio Housing and Wisconsin-based Commonwealth Development Corp. partnered on the new apartment project, which is largely financed using low-income housing tax credits. All of the apartments would be for those earning roughly one-third to a half of the area's median income.

Dan Martin, the neighborhood association's chairman, pilloried planners, claiming they ignored city codes and the city's hillside overlay, which he said put surrounding homes at risk of landslides.

He also said that the lone access point posed a significant safety hazard, given that no sidewalk will be constructed there. Space for a sidewalk on that road is on private property, and the nearby Las Casas Condo Owners Association has denied access to The Ridge's developers for a second access point.

"Imagine coming in off that truck delivery lane, into that entrance there, and with kids coming in and out of there, bicycles perhaps, skateboards, and you're trying to look for parking places, and you're negotiating that? It's a nightmare," Martin said.

Daryn Murphy, a Commonwealth vice president of development, countered that the project will turn the land, which he called "blighted," into an attractive lot that matches the aesthetics of the surrounding community.

Currently, "water just pours off" the lot, he said. But the project will help mitigate stormwater concerns with the creation of two retention ponds. And "exhaustive" geological studies have helped ensure that the retention walls planned for the property will help mitigate against landslides, he said.

"Resident safety, resident well-being is something we take very, very seriously," Murphy said. "Otherwise, we wouldn't be doing this."

Most planning commission members agreed, saying the proposal fit city codes, including those aimed at mitigating the risk of landslides.

"I don't think this is a perfect site, but I do think it has met all the design criteria," said Reggie Graham, a commission member.

In opposition was commission member Jeff Markewich, who said city planners were "kind of loose" on enforcing hillside overlay requirements. And the complex did not appear "harmonious" or "compatible" with the surrounding neighborhood, as required for approval.

He stressed his opposition was not based on the project's focus on low-income tenants.

"I look at things like walkability, access to public transportation, access to health care, and this site doesn't give any of that," Markewich said. "And those are very important considerations for low-income people, for high-income people.

"To me, it's like putting these residents on an island."

Earlier Thursday, Markewich suggested the project would be better suited for southeast Colorado Springs, where poverty rates are higher.

"What we're trying to do as a city is try to help that (southeast) area, and it just seems like you're putting a facility in a place that is least needed," Markewich said. "I mean not even partially needed - it is like the least needed place."

His comments drew the loudest applause of the day from onlookers - as well as a rebuke from Peter Wysocki, the city's planning and community development director.

"My question to you is whether or not you'd have the same questions if this was a condominium?" Wysocki asked Markewich.

Five Broadmoor Bluffs residents spoke against the proposal - calling it unsafe for the children expected to live there, and a traffic burden on the community.

"I am for low-income housing, because I grew up in low-income housing and I know we need it," said Richard Martin, a Broadmoor Bluffs resident of 14 years. "But I just don't see this area as being the right area."

Its lone defender was Gale Homier, a Broadmoor Bluffs resident of 33 years who pointed to comments by residents at community meetings earlier this year that she said revealed different motives for the association's yearlong fight.

"I've heard people say that they don't want 'those people' in their area," Homier said. "That it's going to be full of illegal aliens. That 'baby mamas' are going to move into this project.

"I just find it sad, and sad that they have managed to keep other people from seeking help."

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