ON UNSOLID GROUND: City Council unanimously passes new landslide law for Colorado Springs

March 14, 2017 Updated: March 15, 2017 at 11:48 am
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Rick Sisco stands at the now edge of his property and describes what his yard looked like prior to the landslide. His home is pictured in the Skyway neighborhood on Friday, April 8, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette.

The Colorado Springs City Council passed a new landslides ordinance Tuesday in a 9-0 vote - the exact opposite of the Planning Commission's unanimous vote rejecting the proposed law.

The stunning victory came as sweet relief for Councilmen Don Knight and Tom Strand, who worked on the ordinance since May, meeting eight times with stakeholders ranging from the Colorado Geological Survey to the local Housing & Building Association, and from geotechnical engineers to developers and people living in landslide zones.

Knight and Strand had proposed improving the law after landslides pulverized at least 28 homes since July 2015.

Planning commissioners had called it "a solution in search of a problem" and a measure that would stigmatize the half of the city west of Interstate 25.

"Our beloved Planning Commission thinks this only deals with folks on the west side of I-25. It affects both sides," Strand told his council colleagues. "This law answers issues, problems we've had and makes it stronger and better. We wanted to ensure that property owners knew they were going to be secure in how their foundations were set up. This is something the time has now come for us to deal with."

The new law ensures that the Colorado Geological Survey (CGS) will not only review site plans and make recommendations in advance, but also will get to see whether the builder implemented such safeguards when revising the plans.

"Initially, CGS professionals were involved at the beginning, would make recommendations and were left out at the end of the process," Strand said.

Dave Munger, executive director of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations, urged the council to enact the measure.

"We particularly thank Don Knight and Tom Strand for their leadership on this," Munger said, "closing the circle, if you will, and reminding us all that good practice should be safe practice. There are some pretty dramatic examples of how the past didn't work so well."

The new law also will:

- Require builders to get geological hazard reports on land within the hillside or streamside overlay zones, within a 100-year floodplain or within any landslide susceptibility or mine subsidence map published by the CGS. Also subject to that requirement are lands with unstable or potentially unstable slopes or slopes exceeding 33 percent; a history of a landfill or uncontrolled or undocumented fill activity, and other geologic hazards that cannot be mitigated through standard foundation and construction practices.

The existing law didn't require geohazard reports on individual lots, but the new law will, Planning Director Peter Wysocki said.

- The final geohazard study and the site's related plans - master, concept, development, preliminary plat, final plat or residential site plan - will be reviewed again by the CGS or an independent professional. If an applicant disagrees with recommendations by the city staff and CGS, then a panel of three geologists, geotechnical engineers or professional engineers could evaluate the geohazard study, too, and those findings will be added to staff recommendations. The applicant will pay for that panel.

- An improvement location certificate, showing that the construction matches the plans, must be submitted before the city will issue a certificate of occupancy.

"For everybody in the community involved ... we thought we were going to get it done in one month," Knight said. "It took a little longer, but it was worth the education."

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