Woodland Park residents are protesting developers’ plan to profit off the tiny house trend by building a community of slightly larger homes, saying the proposal should have never passed muster with city officials.
City Planning Director Sally Riley ignored those residents’ concerns and exercised “utilitarian power” that “no unelected city official should ever have” when she approved the plans for the 53-home community off Colorado 67 in June, opponents of the project said in a recently filed appeal.
Opponents fear that development group M3XP2’s Village at Tamarac will cause the values of nearby homes to fall, clog the highway with traffic, and strain local emergency services. And, they say, the city has set a dangerous precedent by allowing manufactured units in a zoning district that doesn’t allow mobile homes.
“Woodland Park, I think, will have to change its name to Woodland Trailer Park. Because that’s what it’s going to look like,” said Joe Fury, who lives in another neighborhood off Colorado 67. “They’re taking money out of my pocket, out of the value of my home, and devaluing my home and my neighbor’s home for the benefit of these developers.”
Riley and other city officials have disputed claims of impropriety, saying that the developers met the city code’s requirement.
“Staff takes public comment very seriously, but staff cannot be arbitrary and capricious in our judgment of a use by right,” Riley said. “We have very little discretion. You either meet the standards for parking and setbacks and use and utilities and drainage and grading, or not.”
Pete LaBarre, who’s part of the development group, said the residents’ objections are typical of the “not in my backyard” stance often seen in anti-development movements and fueled by irrational concerns.
“When somebody says, ‘We don’t want you to build,’ what do I do? Pack up my marbles and go home?” said LaBarre. “Our property rights should be equally protected under the law. And that’s what the city’s position has been.”
He’s said the development would offer working-class people an attainable path to home ownership at a time when housing prices in Woodland Park and elsewhere in the Pikes Peak region are soaring.
The home prices will likely start about $115,000, and owners would pay $600 to $700 a month to lease their lot, he said. However, the prices may increase slightly, depending on how much the developer has to pay attorneys to overcome objections.
The city received two appeals demanding public hearings on the project. One, signed by five residents, was submitted Aug. 1. That appeal is scheduled to be heard by the Woodland Park Board of Adjustment at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the City Council Chambers, 220 W. South Ave. However, itcould be postponed to Sept. 6 if not enough members of the board can attend Monday, Riley said.
The second appeal, submitted Aug. 2 with about 50 signatures on a petition, is slated for a hearing Sept. 11, she said.
The board will decide if the city erred in approving the application and vote on whether to reverse the decision.
LaBarre co-owns a former recreational vehicle park off U.S. 24 near eastern Woodland Park that’s been turned into a community of about 60 tiny houses.
He also owns the nearby Woodland Village Mobile Home Park, where operators shut off residents’ water for hours at a time this summer to look for leaks after the park was notified that water consumption was abnormally high. The leaks have been repaired and there have been no further shutoffs, LaBarre said.
The development group tried last year to get city permission to put about 80 tiny homes on 10 acres near Morning Sun Drive across U.S. 24 from Walmart.
Because of the way city land-use rules classify tiny houses, the property needed to be rezoned from multifamily suburban to a mobile home park district. Residents of a nearby upscale neighborhood protested, concerned that their property values would decrease.
According to the city, the developers don’t need a zoning change for the proposed Village at Tamarac’s small houses on nearly 7 acres zoned multifamily suburban at the end of Tamarac Parkway.
The development group submitted its plans to the city in May, and the city issued a letter of approval with some conditions on July 23.
While the application was pending, there were two public comment periods, only one of which was legally required, Riley said.
Under the city code, the plan could be approved administratively without a public hearing or decision from the City Council. It was “standard process” for an application that doesn’t require a zoning change, she said.
The homes are factory-built, but stray from the traditional definition of tiny houses because they are not mounted on wheels and exceed 400 square feet.
Residents argued in one of the appeals that the structures would still be considered tiny homes by “any reasonable person.”
“It’s trickery, we think. And it’s deceit,” Fury said.
Opponents worry, too, that the village won’t fit in with the surrounding “family friendly” neighborhoods, said Valerie Lundy, who lives in the local Fairway Pines neighborhood.
“I don’t want to see them be (Vacation Rental By Owner’s) or rentals or Airbnbs or anything like that,” she said. “I don’t think we want that kind of community.”