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On Unsolid Ground

Why Colorado Springs residents are losing their homes to landslides despite decades of warnings

Part 1: Known risks

On Unsolid Ground

Risk grows as homes crumble in Colorado Springs landslides Part 2

Danger zones

Boulder County hasn't had a subdivision built on its mountains since 1971, said Dale Case, the county's land-use development director.

"With landslides, there's not much you can do with the unstable slopes," he said. "We would be practicing avoidance in those areas ...A lot of times, the person who wants to build the house says they want to take the risk, but that person is not the person who will be there forever. We have an obligation to future residents or first responders that we don't put them in harm's way.

Colorado Springs has no moratorium on development of any area, including those with landslide risk, said Peter Wysocki, the city's planning and development director.

"There's a fine balance between property rights and local government regulatory requirements," he said.

Kuehster said it's not a good idea to restrict whole areas from development, especially when problems may occur only on some plots.

"It's hard to predict what slopes will fail," said Eric Billmeyer an instructor in the geography and environmental studies department at UCCS. "With as much rain as we had last spring, the landslides happened in just a couple of areas. The next time, it could be someplace else."

Although developer-paid experts say building solutions can help, even the best engineering solutions don't always work, said Brian Hildenbrandt, owner of the structural engineering firm Hildenbrandt and Associates Inc., which has helped homeowners fix landslide-damaged properties.

Sometimes the property is not worth the cost of the cure, Hildenbrandt said. Some areas are so bad that even the best solutions won't work. Some Colorado Springs homes are on such precarious sites that he refuses to work there because any repairs won't help if a landslide hits.

Jim Frohbieter, a longtime Colorado Springs geologist, also refuses to work in certain areas.

"We don't work in the Cedar Heights or the Broadmoor areas," he said. "The risk is too high, and we think people who build up there are nuts. You'd think people would get the hint when we refuse, but they don't."

Jonathan White, a retired state geologist, said the city's method of choosing which risks to take often hinges on the influence and pressure of the developer.

"It's human nature. A developer will say, 'We can't build there. But over here, this will be just fine,'" he said. "The developer wants to make a sale. It's a tough call. There needs to be a better way."

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