A month after the Waldo Canyon fire torched their five-bedroom home on Yankton Place, Joseph Boyd and his wife, Trish Nelson-Boyd, stood amid the ashes Wednesday with the hope of rebuilding by Christmas.
“If you look at the fact that there is literally nothing behind us, the only direction to go is forward and to do that in a timely manner is the only thing that’s going to get us home in a timely manner,” said Nelson-Boyd, 47.
The couple is the first set of homeowners to obtain a permit to rebuild in Mountain Shadows following the fire, which destroyed 346 homes, damaged dozens of others and left two people dead.
Nelson-Boyd said she and her husband, who celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary Wednesday, looked at other properties in the city but didn’t find anything that meant as much to them as Mountain Shadows, where they have lived for more than 10 years.
“The decision was relatively simple,” she said.
Even as some residents move forward with plans to rebuild, the city is considering changes to building and fire codes to prevent a repeat of the destruction if another firestorm hits. While internal discussions have been ongoing for the past month, a new task force is just now starting to look at possible changes. The task force is on a fast track, but decisions could be weeks away, and residents who are anxious to get started could get ahead of the city’s process.
One thing is certain. A review is needed, city officials say.
Mayor Steve Bach said the fire was “a huge wake-up call” for the community.
“Anybody living west of I-25 should be really alert to the situation. If this fire had happened on Cheyenne Mountain, we could have lost thousands of homes down there and maybe many lives,” Bach said last week.
“Yes, we are going to be looking at the city’s codes,” he said.
Kyle Campbell, interim planning director, said he convened a rebuilding task force that will include representatives from various city departments, the Housing and Building Association and the city’s Planning Commission.
“We recognize that there is an immediate need to resolve the question of, ‘Are there going to be any changes to design, to building construction, that need to take place as a result of the fire?’” he said.
“City staff has been geared up and has been interacting, and this task force will essentially bring it to a head as far as what are we going to move forward with,” he said.
Campbell said there’s already been “a lot of discussion” about the hillside overlay zone, which provides rules about hillside vegetation across Colorado Springs, both from a preservation and clearance standpoint.
“Right now the hillside overlay recommends preserving as much significant vegetation as you can,” he said. “We’ll be going back and taking a look at those setbacks. Does the Fire Department have specific (recommendations)? Maybe what’s in there makes sense and they’re happy with it. We just have to get to that point and understand it.”
Fire Marshal Brett Lacey did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Campbell said the rebuilding task force will meet for the first time Thursday.
“I don’t want this to be a once every other week meeting schedule where it takes three months to get through the process. We need to meet several times a week so we can really get to the bottom of how to move forward. It needs to be quick,” he said. That could happen in as little as several weeks, he said.
Neighborhood leaders also want a say in the rebuilding process and are considering creating a taxing district to enforce existing covenants.
City Council President Scott Hente, a homebuilder, said he has clients who want to rebuild right away.
“If the city wants to do something, I think it’s incumbent on the city to bring something forward quickly because I don’t think the city should stand in these people’s way,” he said.
Hente said most homeowners are likely to rebuild with more fire resistant materials even if it’s not required by the city.
“I don’t think the city should be telling people, ‘Wait while we decide what we want to do.’ These people want to get on with their lives, and I think we should let them,” said Hente, whose home in Mountain Shadows was damaged by the fire.
Jim Boulton, project manager and vice president of Classic Homes, which is building the home for Boyds, said they’ll proceed with construction and make changes along the way if the city decides to implement new policies.
“They’re trying to muddle through all of the changes that are going to be happening so we have a rough idea what they’re going to do, and we’re going to be making those changes as we go along,” he said. “We want to get these people back in their house as quickly as we can.”
Joseph Boyd, 53, said his new home will be about the same square footage, and the layout will be slightly different.
“It’s much better because it has a bigger man cave,” he said, laughing.
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