SIDE STREETS: Developer drops Rawles neighborhood project for now

November 8, 2009
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Three years ago, Kristine Hembre bought a house on five acres along Mesa Road and set out developing a small subdivision in the Rawles Open Space Neighborhood.

Two weeks ago, Hembre abruptly dropped her project after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on it and battling with neighbors who objected to her plan to build large, modern homes amid their rural, ranch-style neighborhood.

Neighbors celebrated, thinking they had won with their argument that the city has an obligation to protect the character of unique neighborhoods, regardless of a parcel’s zoning or whether the project meets all other requirements set by the city.

But did they win?

Something tells me they better not relax just yet.

Hembre won’t talk to me about why she abandoned “Horizon View” just a day before the Colorado Springs City Council was to consider a compromise she reached with the Rawles neighbors.

The agreement called for Hembre, an allergy doctor, to scale back her project from five houses to three, push them 100 feet back from Mesa Road and limit their height.

The idea was for her modern houses to blend more with the rural feel of the tiny Rawles neighborhood, which straddles Mesa and in many ways still resembles the landscape Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer would have seen as he rode his horse down Mesa to town from his Glen Eyrie estate a century ago.

Hembre has too much invested in the project to simply walk away. She mentioned her finances when she addressed the Council in April. She said the only way she could recoup her sizeable investment was by building five houses.

Besides the $535,500 she spent on the property, Hembre spent thousands more on experts to design five home sites and engineer 2,000-foot-long sewer and water lines to serve her subdivision. Another $5,000 or so went to secure approvals from the city planning staff.

No doubt it was frustrating to spend all that time and money winning approval from city staff and the planning commission, only to be rebuffed by the council and told to work with neighbors on a compromise. It was a good lesson on how motivated neighbors can change the course of a development.

They convinced a majority on City Council that no developer should be allowed to come into an existing neighborhood with a distinct character and build something most neighbors consider incompatible.
But that’s the key: They convinced this council.

Neighbors would be foolish to think the next council will share that opinion the next time a Horizon View is proposed. They would be smart to stay vigilant.

In fact, Hembre told city staff she simply intends to wait for a more favorable climate — economic and, perhaps more importantly, political — before resurrecting Horizon View.

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