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On Unsolid Ground: Proposed laws would tighten standards for building in Colorado Springs landslide zone

November 28, 2016 Updated: November 29, 2016 at 6:55 am
Caption +
Rick Sisco poses for a portrait on what is left of the back patio of his home on Constellation Drive on Monday, July 18, 2016. Photo by Ryan Jones, The Gazette.

New laws to tightly regulate construction in Colorado Springs' landslide-risk areas got some final tweaks Monday and are expected to be brought before the Planning Commission and City Council in January.

The action was prompted by landslides that started in July 2015 and have severely damaged or destroyed at least 26 homes in and around Lower Skyway and Broadmoor Terrace.

In essence, the rewritten laws would:

- Ensure that Colorado Geological Survey experts review final plans for building in geological hazard areas. The city has been sending initial plans to the survey, which reviews them and makes recommendations. But once builders and city staff negotiated how to handle those suggestions, the final plans never went back to the CGS, staff members there say. The new, final Colorado Geological Survey review is expected to improve mitigation techniques in a city whose development review staff has no geologists.

- Double site scrutiny before construction by requiring a builder to get a soils report from a geologist and a soils mitigation report from a geotechnical engineer. Only one such expert has been required.

- Give the city responsibility to review the Improvement Location Certificate and document that mitigation measures are being met before the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department issues the Certificate of Occupancy.

The rewrites started this summer, after Councilman Don Knight in May suggested a moratorium on building in the landslide susceptibility zone, saying the council would be remiss to ignore The Gazette's "On Unsolid Ground" series about victimized homeowners.

With little support for such drastic action affecting property rights, Knight then moved to strengthen city ordinances, and Councilman Tom Strand immediately offered to help.

The two councilmen have been hammering away on the laws ever since, holding multiple meetings with geologists, geotechnical engineers, home builders, real estate brokers, homeowners in the landslide zone and staff from the city, the Colorado Geological Survey and the Regional Building Department.

Knight lives in Rockrimmon and represents District 1 on the city's northwest side. Strand is an at-large councilman who lives in Old Colorado City on the West Side. Most of Colorado Springs west of Interstate 25 is in the landslide susceptibility zone.

Monday, Knight and Strand met with Peter Wysocki, city planning and development director, to discuss the city's new responsibility with the Improvement Location Certificate.

"People are doing a pretty good job of policing themselves to get the ILC," Knight said. "Having the city sign off is a new step for everybody."

But that extra step shouldn't slow the builders' progress, because they can request their ILCs while a house is getting its paint and carpets, Wysocki advised.

"It's just a change of procedure, but it's not going to cost them any more," Strand said. "They just have to get used to the change. But I think it does protect the homeowner to a greater degree, which is what we're trying to do."

If the rewritten laws are enacted by a council majority vote, Knight and Strand plan to find a way to notify prospective homeowners of a property's landslide status.

Currently, a note to that effect sometimes is placed on a property's plat document. But buyers don't see that document until they're signing a sheaf of papers at the real estate closing. Even if they notice the tiny stamp on the plat, it only advises that a geohazard report on the land exists - not whether it's of any concern.

"What you put on the plat to me is like a postage stamp," Knight said in May.

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