October 19, 2008
The clash between old country neighborhoods and new city subdivisions is a familiar story in Colorado Springs: farmhouses scattered along dirt roads suddenly are surrounded by new houses squeezed on tiny lots along straight, paved streets.
That's the case on Ski Lane in an unincorporated enclave near Woodmen Road between Powers Boulevard and Black Forest Road.
Today they are living up against the Cumbre Vista subdivision, created by Paul Howard's Infinity Land Corp., on 115 acres south of Cottonwood Creek.
The old-timers insist they don't begrudge Howard his right to build whatever he wants on the land. But they don't appreciate having access to their homes blocked or seeing their Ski Lane wiped off the map. Literally.
And they really object to the way his project left them high and dry.
Again, literally. (See photos on my Side Streets blog)
Somehow, the experts who designed Cumbre Vista and those at city engineering didn't notice that the homes of Bill and Maureen Marchant and Marilyn Howell and others on Ski Lane sat on a hill overlooking the new subdivision. (Apparently the name "Ski Lane" wasn't enough of a clue.)
Plans submitted by Infinity in 2005 show subdivision streets connecting nicely to Ski Lane and giving it smooth access to the north to Cow Poke Lane and Black Forest Road — the historic route used by emergency services from Black Forest to reach the neighborhood. Ditto the 2007 amended plan. No severe contours.
So neighbors were puzzled when Howard's crews started grading for streets, sewers and water lines. In the process, they chopped the hill in half. If neighbors drove north on Ski Lane, they risked plunging over a 12-foot cliff. Suddenly "Ski Jump Lane" was a more appropriate name.
Even worse, the crews obliterated the roads to the north, leaving the residents' only access from the west via Sorpresa Lane, which involved a hairpin curve and driving down a steep, narrow, twisting dirt road to reach paved streets of the subdivision.
"They didn't bother to talk to us, they just closed Ski Lane and took it off the maps," said Howell, 83, who has lived on her 10 acres since 1965. "The road is so dangerous the post office won't drive up it and deliver our mail. It was so bad the firetrucks couldn't get up it. But we're supposed to drive it? What if I get ill? They don't know where to find us because we're not on the maps anymore."
Even worse, nobody would listen to the neighbors' complaints. Bill Marchant said he called the sheriff, county staff and the El Paso County Commission. No one returned his calls.
He said only Larry Larsen, at city planning, would help the county residents. What Larsen saw stunned him.
"What happened there is not acceptable," Larsen said "It was a mess."
He went to work with city engineers, the neighbors and Howard to fashion a switchback so emergency vehicles could turn and reach Ski Lane. A guardrail was installed on the cliff. And MacVan The Map Company was asked to restore Ski Lane to its maps.
What exists now is ugly, but Larsen said it will have to do until the land where the neighbors live is developed and can be lowered to match the rest of the subdivision.
"It's the best we can do," Larsen said. "It looks terrible. But it's a lot better than it was."
Neighbors hope a judge will order Ski Lane restored when a lawsuit over access eventually goes to trial.
Howard blames city planning, city engineers and neighbors for the mess. Especially neighbors who refused to give him "slope easements" so he could gradually lower Ski Lane down to the new subdivision streets.
"The city told us to build it this way," Howard said. "I drive out there and shake my head. I agree it's ugly. We're as frustrated as anybody."
Tell me about your neighborhood: 636-0193 or email@example.com