SIDE STREETS: Council's definition of 'neighborhood' may help settle disagreement

May 2, 2009
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Tiny but unique neighborhoods have won a big victory before the Colorado Springs City Council.

The victory came last week after Dave Munger, president of the Council of Neighbors & Organizations, asked the council a couple of simple questions:

"What is a neighborhood? And who decides that?"

Munger raised the questions after a developer trying to build a modern five-house subdivision along Mesa Road suggested that the 30 or so members of the new Rawles Open Space Neighborhood Association didn't qualify as a legitimate association and were not worthy of council recognition.

"It's a question we've got to address," Munger said. "Neighborhoods are the building blocks of cities. Our city codes and city master plan ... refer to the importance of preserving neighborhood character."

Munger urged the council to mandate that developer Kristine Hembre's Horizon View subdivision be compatible with the rustic, 60-year-old Rawles neighborhood and its low-profile ranch homes, which sit on large lots, have gravel driveways and lack sidewalks, curbs and even sewers.

Hembre, an allergy doctor, said she views the open space neighborhood as "an eyesore" that she would improve by building five houses on her 5-acre lot and "sharing" it.

"I'm not big on open space just sitting there," Hembre told the council. "I wouldn't want my property to look like the Rawles property looks right now. That, to me, is an eyesore. I'm going to make beautiful houses on this site, and I hope you buy them. I think they are going to be nice."

Hembre's spokesman, Bill Guman, earlier argued the Rawles group was unfairly trying to distance itself from the larger Mesa Neighborhood Association, which contains many high-density, multistory houses. Guman said the group was "fabricated" to appear sympathetic to the council.

But Munger argued that every large neighborhood is made up of many smaller neighborhoods with their own distinct character and unique qualities that need to be protected from incompatible developments.

Vice Mayor Larry Small agreed and denounced Guman's suggestion that small groups of citizens shouldn't bother petitioning city government without first being formally approved.

Small said he believes in property rights, but not at the expense of existing neighborhoods.

"Neighborhoods are defined by their character, their inhabitants," Small said. "Rawles certainly has its own unique characteristics - different densities, setbacks, building heights. I am very sensitive to the right of people to use their property. This is about compatibility. They can still develop their property, just in a more compatible way."

Hembre was given two months to meet with neighbors and devise a three-house subdivision more in harmony with the "eyesore" open space surrounding it.

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