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Colorado Springs City Council rejects appeal of affordable housing project

March 13, 2018 Updated: March 14, 2018 at 6:22 am

The Colorado Springs City Council denied the latest attempt by a Broadmoor Bluffs group to halt construction of a contentious affordable housing project.

The council voted 6-to-3 against the Broadmoor Bluffs Neighborhood Association's appeal of a development plan and final plat for The Ridge apartments, near Colorado 115 and South Academy Boulevard.

The decision ended the association's final possible appeal to city leaders, as the council sided with the Planning Commission and the city's planning department in green-lighting the project.

But the fight may continue, said Cynthia Grey, one of the neighborhood association's leaders.

She struck a defiant tone after the vote - vowing to host a community meeting Wednesday evening to gauge whether to seek an injunction in District Court against the project's developers. When asked how much money the group has raised, Grey said simply: "Enough."

"They (the council) focused on things other than code," Grey said.

Already, the surrounding neighborhood's fight has dragged on for more than a year. The Broadmoor Bluffs group says its opposition is aimed at ensuring the safety of The Ridge's future tenants and its neighbors. But a few Broadmoor Bluffs residents and others have criticized the group for appearing to take a "not in my backyard" stance against low-income families.

The $14 million, 60-unit complex is planned for a vacant lot behind a Safeway. The same number of buildings and units were planned for the site about 15 years ago as part of a condominium project, but it fell victim to the Great Recession.

Colorado Springs nonprofit Greccio Housing and Wisconsin-based Commonwealth Development Corp. are partners on The Ridge, which is largely financed using low-income housing tax credits. All of the apartments would be for those earning roughly one-third to one-half of the area's median income.

Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler led the council's motion to strike down the appeal - becoming a lightning rod of criticism during the meeting for her past work as Greccio's development director. She said the city attorney's office cleared her to vote, citing no conflict of interest.

Gaebler criticized the neighborhood association's appeal for being "somewhat disjointed" - especially its claims of working for the safety of The Ridge's future tenants.

The group claimed the project was a geologic hazard that ran afoul of federal Americans with Disability Act requirements. It also argued that the apartment buildings were too high, that its retention walls were too big, and that children could be hit by Safeway delivery trucks due to the lack of any sidewalk leading to it from Broadmoor Bluffs Drive.

Myriad agencies - including the Colorado Geological Survey, the city Fire Department and the Colorado Department of Transportation - have dismissed those concerns and signed off on the project, city planners said.

Gaebler criticized the group's complaint over the lack of a sidewalk to the apartment complex, as it had denied Greccio and Commonwealth access to the very property needed to build that sidewalk.

"That doesn't make any sense to me why you would do that, even if it is private ground, if you truly care about their safety," Gaebler said.

She also criticized the group for being amenable to seeing condominiums built at that same location, but not an apartment complex for low-income people.

"This land is zoned for multifamily housing," Gaebler said. "This should have been handled administratively as use by right. And we're here tonight going through this undignified process. I'm sorry it really does appear to be that you really don't want low-income community members living next to - "

Her words were drowned out by shouts of "recuse yourself" from the audience of dozens of people, most of whom opposed the project.

"I have never, one time, had a conversation with anyone at Greccio Housing regarding this project," Gaebler said. "I'm telling you the truth."

Siding with the project's opponents, Councilman Andy Pico said the lack of a sidewalk was a deal breaker. He was joined in opposition by Councilmen Tom Strand and Bill Murray.

Strand said the project's safety and legal issues, along with the area's geologic risks, were enough to back the appeal.

"I've probably changed my mind tonight five or six different times," Strand said. "I can't tell you how much I respect the idea of infill and providing housing for people who are less fortunate.

"But for my right, I want to do what I consider is the right thing."

But Councilwoman Yolanda Avila - a stout advocate of public transportation and disability rights who is blind and represents some of the city's poorest neighborhoods - was dismayed by the appeal.

"It's quite disturbing to hear that used in such as way as to make a point on why not to have the development there," Avila said.

She asked the group whether its members had previously asked the City Council to improve transit funding or help for people with disabilities.

"I don't think so," Avila said. "Because you really don't want this development to go."

She was joined in voting to deny the appeal by council President Richard Skorman and members David Geislinger, Merv Bennett and Don Knight.

After the meeting, the project's developers vowed to move ahead.

Daryn Murphy, a Commonwealth vice president of development, said construction should take 12 to 13 months. He gave no timetable for breaking ground, only "as soon as possible."

"Hopefully it's going to be very soon," Murphy said.

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