El Paso County commissioners Tuesday approved a rezoning request and preliminary plans to build more than 70 homes in the south side of Black Forest as part of the Homestead North at Sterling Ranch development project, after neighbors shared concerns about density and increased traffic in the area.
The newly approved land designation and preliminary plan authorizes developer Classic Homes to build 77 single-family detached residential lots on about 41 acres south of Poco Road and east of Vollmer Road, called Homestead North Filing No. 3.
The property lies within the Sterling Ranch Sketch Plan the Board of County Commissioners approved in 2008, said Andrea Barlow of N.E.S. Inc., representing the developer.
Drainage and other utilities, as well as landscaping, trails and just under 12 acres of open space also are proposed, Barlow said.
The proposed density of 1.8 dwelling units per acre, Barlow said, is consistent with the Sterling Ranch Sketch Plan that depicts two dwelling units per acre. Proposed lot sizes vary across the development to offer appropriate transitions between densities in the existing Retreat at TimberRidge development to the north, Homestead North Filings 1 and 2 to the south, the approved Sterling Ranch Sketch Plan to the east, and a proposed sketch plan to the west known as the Jayne Sketch Plan, she said.
Average lot sizes in Homestead North Filing No. 3 are about 12,400 square feet. The smallest lots will be about 9,000 square feet near the Homestead North filings No. 1 and 2 to the south. Half-acre lots are planned for the north side near Poco Road, Barlow said.
Residents living north of the proposed development said Tuesday they expected the project's proposed density to be about 40 lots on approximately 40 acres after accounting for land needed for tracts, easements and roads.
"We're not opposed to new homes. That would make us hypocrites," said Joe Tran, who lives in the Retreat at TimberRidge. "But the reality is that what we were presented and what we understood is different than what we see now."
Project documents state that 77 single-family detached residential lots are planned to be built on 21.95 acres of the approximately 41-acre parcel. Tran said that equates to more than two dwelling units per acre, incompatible with the larger lots in the neighboring Retreat at TimberRidge.
"We wanted to preserve that type of density that we bought into," he said.
Barlow said the preliminary plan had always proposed 77 lots on about 41 acres of land.
"If the expectation was 40 lots, that would be a one unit per acre density, which was not what was shown on the sketch plan," she said.
Residents were also concerned future traffic from the Homestead North development would travel up through the Retreat at TimberRidge via Aspen Valley Road to access Falcon and more of Black Forest.
A traffic impact study dated Nov. 28 anticipates on average Homestead North Filing No. 3 will generate 727 average daily trips when it is built out, Retreat at TimberRidge resident Angelika Bush said.
"Our concern is that people will use Aspen Valley (Road) as a cut-through instead of using Vollmer Road, so the safety of our neighborhood is being threatened, we feel," Bush said.
Developers are improving Vollmer Road and plan to connect Briargate Parkway through the development to Towner Avenue, west of Meridian Road, part of "larger infrastructure changes (that) will significantly improve traffic in this area," Barlow said.
She said drivers who go north on Aspen Valley Road will eventually hit Arroya Lane, which connects to Vollmer Road on the west and dead-ends going east. Travelers wouldn't be able to access Falcon that way, Barlow said.
Tran said he and others were concerned that neighbors weren't more adequately notified of the project so they could provide feedback. Only one homeowner in the Retreat at TimberRidge was notified out of eight letters that were sent to adjacent property owners, Tran said. The other seven property owners notified were developers.
"I feel like it was really disingenuous that we didn’t receive letters," he said.
Many neighbors also did not see signs posted at the corner of Vollmer and Poco roads to notify residents of the project, he said.
Barlow said county codes require that "immediately adjacent properties" are notified of land development requests.
"In some instances, those will be properties owned by the developer because they're part of the development," Barlow said.
She also said the landowner did not host a community meeting on the proposed rezoning and the preliminary plan because they "were not proposing anything different ... from the well-established sketch plan density and the planned development that has been in that area since 2008."
El Paso County Planning and Community Development Director Meggan Herington said county staff followed county codes for notifying adjacent neighbors "down to the letter." That code hasn't been changed since at least about 2007, she told commissioners, but to better improve the public process planning staff can address where signs are posted and, depending on the size of the project, can require multiple posters.
"Perhaps it is time to look at notification. With more urban-level development occurring in unincorporated El Paso County, perhaps 'adjacent' doesn't cover enough neighbors and that's definitely something we can look at internally," Herington said.