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Colorado Springs school district agrees to offer on vacant land for low-income homes

November 30, 2017 Updated: December 2, 2017 at 5:25 pm
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The entrance to the vacant land sits on a dead-end road in southeast Colorado Springs. (Debbie Kelley, The Gazette)

If all goes as longtime Colorado Springs insurance agent Don Bates and his family envision, barren land in a blighted area of southeast Colorado Springs will have a purpose: Up to 250 single-family homes for low-income residents will be built over the next few years.

"It'll be a community where people who are excluded from the market now will be able to qualify and have their own brand new home," Bates told the board of Colorado Springs School District 11.

The seven-member board, with one absent, voted unanimously Wednesday night to approve an offer of $175,000 from Bates on a 22-acre site the district was gifted in January 2000 by another local family with deep city roots.

Bates intends to combine the D-11 property, off East Platte Avenue and Wooten Road, with 40 vacant acres he owns to the south.

Only about 6 acres of the D-11 land are developable, he said. The remainder slopes to Sand Creek and, under his plan, would become part of the city's trail system and groomed open space.

Bates would need to get city approval to extend Pikes Peak Avenue to the east, develop new roads and install utilities on the property.

Principal city planner Lonna Thelen said the ownership group - a limited liability company that includes family members of Bates - would need to receive City Council approval of a zoning change for the D-11 property, a development plan and a final plat. Road and utility extensions would be determined at the plan review point, she said, adding that she has not yet had any pre-application meetings for the proposal.

Bates also likely would need clearance from Colorado Springs Airport officials, as a runway lies about 1 mile from the site.

An aviation easement probably would be needed prior to development, said Director of Aviation Greg Phillips.

He said he didn't believe a future development would violate Federal Aviation Administration regulations on height or require any mandatory noise mitigation, but added that "the closer you are the airport, the more noise you will get."

Phillips noted that the runway is the least busy of the airport's three runways, is not used by airlines and is primarily used by the Air Force for C-130s and other aircraft.

Residential developers already have expressed interest in the potential project, Bates said. Instead of $100,000 lots, the average going rate in Colorado Springs, Bates said parcel prices would cost $50,000 or less, on which the new homes would be built.

Bates said he also has some buyers lined up.

"We'd do it in stages, 20 to 30 homes at a time, and we'd be in a position to finance that," he told the board before they voted on the proposal. "The essence of this deal is the savings of size, and builders are interested. It has to be attractive to the public and it has to make economic sense."

The sales transaction could close in three months, said Kris Odom, D-11's executive director of procurement and contracting.

D-11 previously sold the land in 2006 for $450,000 to a different buyers' group that wanted to use the land for storage. A default on the financing in 2011 reverted ownership back to the school district.

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Gazette reporter Wayne Heilman contributed to this article.

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