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Southwest Colorado Springs residents keep up pressure to reject affordable housing project

February 15, 2017 Updated: February 16, 2017 at 1:04 pm
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Caption +
The apartments - for which land has already been purchased - aim to help address a critical affordable housing shortage in El Paso County. (Artist rendering)

Opposition to a planned affordable housing project in the Broadmoor Bluffs neighborhood remained at a fever pitch Wednesday amid concerns the complex would snarl traffic, drop surrounding property values and lack public transportation for low-income tenants.

Hundreds of people packed the Piñon Valley Elementary School gym for the first meeting held by Colorado Springs planning officials over the 60-unit apartment project called The Ridge.

The project has drawn intense opposition from the neighborhood. At a meeting last month, several residents' objections appeared to take a "not in my backyard" view toward low-income families moving in.

On Wednesday, most people focused on possible traffic problems and issues the new tenants could face. Several people voiced concerns about property values plummeting should the apartments be built and if that could affect city revenue.

"It's not a win-win," said Stan Buck, who lives a couple of miles from the planned development. "And to me, it should be a win-win."

The meeting offered the Colorado Springs Planning & Development Department its first chance to hear residents' opinions. Previous meetings were organized by community members, without city officials being present.

The department is reviewing two applications concerning The Ridge - both of which require only administrative approval.

Its decision can be appealed to the Colorado Springs Planning Commission, and that decision can be appealed to the City Council.

"We anticipate at least a few more months of administrative review," said Michael Turisk, a city planner specializing in land-use review. "I want to emphasize that a decision isn't imminent."

Developers originally planned to break ground in May or June. Whether that happens remains unclear.

Project organizers endured withering criticism for developing the apartments far from public transportation lines.

Community members pointed out that a bus stop is 1.1 miles away. Another is closer, they said, but it requires people to walk along a stretch of South Academy Boulevard, where there is no sidewalk and the speed limit is 50 mph.

"They need to exist in a place where infrastructure is already in place," said Stephen Davis, who lives a few miles from the proposed development. "I'm worried we're going to be overburdening the exact people we're supposed to be helping."

Others voiced concerns that Cheyenne School District 12 does not offer busing - a problem, considering the apartments would be about a mile farther from Piñon Valley Elementary School and much farther from Cheyenne Mountain Junior High.

The developers acknowledged shortcomings - particularly the lack of access to public transportation. But they said such projects ensure tenants are no longer rent-burdened, meaning they could finally have money for a vehicle of their own.

The Ridge will feature largely three-bedroom apartments for people earning between 30 percent and 50 percent of the area's median income. For example, the most a family of four could earn and still apply for apartments is about $35,500 a year.

Colorado Springs nonprofit Greccio Housing and Wisconsin-based Commonwealth Development Corp. are partners on the $14 million project near South Academy Boulevard and Colorado 115. It was largely financed using $11 million in low-income tax credits approved by the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority.

Vocal support for the project was almost nonexistent at a previous organized meeting.

But Wednesday, a few more people spoke in favor and were applauded by several in the audience.

"What about loving people and looking through their eyes?" a woman asked the crowd. "They've got hearts and they've got needs, just like everyone in here does."

Daniel Martin, chairman of the Broadmoor Bluffs Neighborhood Association, said he collected at least 160 signatures for a letter he plans to send Thursday to U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., outlining concerns about the project. Along with worries about traffic and a lack of school bus service, he pointed out that a portion of the property is susceptible to landslides.

Project organizers say they are working with the Colorado Geological Survey on a more in-depth analysis to mitigate those concerns.

After many residents complained last month about the apartments snarling traffic in the area, project organizers requested a traffic study, despite the city not mandating one. The results, received Tuesday, showed it wouldn't be a major problem.

"Is this the apartment complex that breaks the straw on the camel's back traffic-wise?" a city traffic engineer mused. "Probably not."

Many remained unconvinced.

"I would say they're completely off-track," said Angie Outlaw, who lives nearby.

She stressed her opposition - and that of many in the community - is not about keeping low-income families away.

"It's about that particular facility being in that particular place," Outlaw said.

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