On Unsolid Ground

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

Continuing Coverage

Continuing landslide coverage

After nearly two years, Colorado Springs landslide victims finally received good news Wednesday: The Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded $5.9 million to the city to acquire houses demolished or severely damaged by landslides caused by record rains in 2015. The Lower Skyway and Broadmoor Bluffs areas were particularly hard-hit, and most of the 27 homeowners who qualify for assistance live in those neighborhoods. Dennis Cripps, whose house on Broadmoor Bluffs was rendered veritably uninhabitable, said he was delighted by the news. "I'm feeling great about it. The disappointment part of it is, that ($5.9 million) is what it was two years ago," Cripps said. "It just seems like it's taken forever. But it feels

Saturated earth in western Colorado Springs took days, weeks and months to form landslides that have ruined about 26 houses, and resolution of the homeowners' woes, likewise, is moving at glacial speed. "I'm very frustrated because I'm making two mortgage payments, and I don't see any activity," said Linda Carroll, who abandoned her landslide-socked house in Lower Skyway and moved to terra firma on the city's northeast side. "We haven't had appraisals; we haven't heard any news. We thought we'd be getting payouts in a couple of months. It's so hard to just sit in your property and not know what your future's going to look like or what offers are to be made - or even if you will have an offer.

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.

The long-awaited study of the enormous Cheyenne Mountain Landslide Complex soon will begin, Mayor John Suthers said Tuesday. Perched atop or beneath that landslide head scarp is some very pricey real estate with priceless views. And the landslide complex movement might be deep-seated and extensive, said State Geologist Karen Berry, director of the Colorado Geological Survey. That's why Suthers is moving forward to "get devices in place to begin monitoring," with requests for proposals on the work to be issued shortly, he said during a luncheon meeting with City Council members. The study launch will be "a step in the right direction," Berry said.

About 18 months after landslides started shaking and destroying 27 Colorado Springs homes, a rewrite of the city's geological hazards ordinance was deemed Tuesday to be ready for a vote. City Councilmen Don Knight and Tom Strand have spent six months working on the law, chiefly to ensure that state geologists get more say on how to build appropriately in the landslide susceptibility zone. Knight initially called for a moratorium on building in that zone west of Interstate 25, citing a culture that valued developer rights over residents' safety. City officials quickly quashed that notion, urging Knight to remedy laws instead. He and Strand had expected to be done last June 28. Instead, the proposal will be introduced at

Christina Gretz is determined to make this Christmas merry for her husband and three children, even as their landslide-ravaged home cracks and creaks around them. They have endured snakes slithering into their house, popping noises awakening the children at night and huge cracks materializing in floors, ceilings and walls, all because of the earth movement destroying their home. Anxiety has become a way of life, with emergency escapes planned in case a bathtub crashes through a floor into a basement bedroom or a ceiling suddenly gives way. "I am determined to give these kids a normal Christmas and give them good memories. These kids deserve to be happy and not have this stress," Gretz says.

The massive Cheyenne Mountain Landslide Scarp looms above a richly developed slope like a sleeping giant with a serious mean streak. But the city has yet to commission a study eight months after the state geologist recommended it be done "as soon as possible." Potentially at risk are the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, The Broadmoor Resort Community, The Broadmoor and hundreds of some of the city's priciest houses tucked into The Broadmoor Valley. The Colorado Geological Survey recommended the study last April after its geologists investigated last year's landslides that destroyed homes, damaged others, leaving them uninhabitable while their owners hope for a government buyout, and severed utility lines. City officials confirmed

New laws to tightly regulate construction in Colorado Springs' landslide-risk areas got some final tweaks Monday and are expected to be brought before the Planning Commission and City Council in January. The action was prompted by landslides that started in July 2015 and have severely damaged or destroyed at least 26 homes in and around Lower Skyway and Broadmoor Terrace. In essence, the rewritten laws would: - Ensure that Colorado Geological Survey experts review final plans for building in geological hazard areas. The city has been sending initial plans to the survey, which reviews them and makes recommendations. But once builders and city staff negotiated how to handle those suggestions, the final plans never went

A 12-foot-wide alley that a Colorado Springs fire engine "couldn't even access" will be the sole entrance to three duplexes to be erected on a landslide-susceptible hill with expansive soils. But those public safety and geological hazards concerns were set aside Tuesday night as a neighborhood appeal of the Planning Commission's OK to use the alley failed in a 4-4 City Council vote. The slope in question is at 543 Robbin Place, a public alley near Chestnut and Boulder streets on the city's West Side. Firefighters had such trouble trying to enter that alley that they produced a video to illustrate their dilemma. (See it at gazette.com) "Couldn't even access the site from the south," reported Steve Smith, fire

A family new to Colorado Springs came within hours of buying a house for $510,000 in the heart of the landslide on Broadmoor Bluffs Drive, where about a dozen homes are on a federal buyout list and slated to be condemned and demolished. Neither the seller nor the associate broker disclosed that an active landslide is on the property, said McCall Shoff, who came to town three months ago with her husband and three children, ages 1, 2 and 3. The house at 4780 Broadmoor Bluffs Drive sold for $945,000 in 2007 but was foreclosed upon by Deutsche Bank Trust Co. in May. On June 16, the bank made a short sale - meaning the proceeds do not cover the liens - for $426,659. The El Paso County Assessor's Office lists the property in

Most people buying houses are oblivious to landslide risks inherent in many areas on Colorado Springs' west side. That troubles Colorado Geological Survey officials and some City Council members, but the city's only signal to buyers has been to put a stamp on a property's plat document. The stamp says a geological hazard report on the property exists, but the buyer doesn't see that paper until signing a sheaf of documents at the property closing. By law, buyers are alerted to possible radon, asbestos, lead paint, termites or flood dangers, but they aren't advised about possible land movement. And even finding a geohazard report is next to impossible for those unfamiliar with the local system, which is unique in

Three houses perched atop a hillside on Columbine Avenue, straddling the landslide zone, were built in 2003 without geological hazard reports required since 1996 under a Colorado Springs ordinance. And they've all been falling apart because of construction that didn't heed the landslide potential and soil issues there, say the homeowners and engineer Brian Hildenbrandt. Under city law, the builders weren't required to get geohazard reports because the lots had been platted in 1984. Once a property is platted, it's cleared for construction. And only individual houses - not entire developments - were being erected.

Good news finally has surfaced for the 26 homeowners whose houses were hit by landslides in Colorado Springs last year. Federal buyouts of their houses probably will be completed by June; the owners likely will get the full 75 percent payment of their total project cost; and demolitions cost about one-tenth of earlier estimates, FEMA official Michael E. Hillenburg said Wednesday. "I'm optimistic in this case," said Hillenburg, chief of the Denver-based FEMA Region VIII's hazard mitigation assistance branch. "I would hope for (buyouts to be done) a year from the original application date (June 10). It could be sooner. I'm giving you a ballpark." Local officials had predicted the FEMA buyouts could take two to three years

What City Councilman Don Knight initially envisioned as a quick fix for building in Colorado Springs' geological hazard zones has morphed into a process encompassing all stakeholders' perspectives and moving about as slowly as a landslide. Progress was incremental again Monday in a second meeting with geologists, geotechnical engineers, builders and homeowners, but this time also featuring Karen Berry, director of the Golden-based Colorado Geological Survey. Knight, with fellow Councilman Tom Strand, seeks to strengthen the city's requirements on building in landslide zones, since 500-year record rains in May 2015 prompted slides that pulverized at least 26 local homes west of Interstate 25.

Colorado government is moving as quickly as it can to help Colorado Springs landslide victims, state Emergency Management Director Marilyn Galley assured the City Council during its work session Monday. But Galley said her agency still is completing buyouts of Boulder County homes from the 2013 floods, an indication of the two to three years needed to close out relief efforts after disasters. "It is a tedious process," Galley said. The state has submitted Colorado Springs' application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, she said. Mayor John Suthers and Councilman Keith King are sponsoring a resolution urging FEMA to "proceed as quickly as possible" in moving forward on the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program

Worry comes naturally to anyone living in a Colorado landslide zone these days, but you can reduce your risks and prepare for the worst-case scenario. That's what homeowners in the Broadmoor Resort Community, Littleton and Vail are doing. And in California - land of earthquakes, mudslides, landslides and coastal erosion - property owners have taxed themselves through special districts for nearly 40 years to forestall disaster and financial devastation. Such funds would have come in handy for dozens of people in Lower Skyway and Broadmoor Bluffs in Colorado Springs who have lost about $7 million in property value since landslides struck their homes last year, reports the El Paso County Assessor's Office.

Colorado Springs officials and stakeholders reviewed a new landslides law Friday designed to slam shut loopholes, strengthen geological hazards reports, and ensure construction of safer homes. City Councilmen Don Knight and Tom Strand proposed the ordinance rewrite in the wake of landslides that have pulverized 26 houses over the past year. In their review Friday with business and building representatives, engineers and geologists, the councilmen were conciliatory but held firm on some points they're pushing to protect residents. They want higher standards, even if costs increase.

Tears were shed Tuesday as landslide victims described their plight to the Colorado Springs City Council, which spent its lunch hour brainstorming how to help the financially and emotionally devastated families. What the council can't do is tap the general fund to help them, City Attorney Wynetta Massey said. "A constitutional provision prevents government from aiding private citizens," Massey said. "City staff wages serve a public purpose. It's not for the private entity; it's for the government. (You) can't use general fund dollars." Councilman Keith King had suggested that approach, among others, after a recent visit to landslide-devastated Lower Skyway homes. But Mayor John Suthers warned that using general fund

Dennis Cripps described to the City Council on Monday how a landslide is destroying his home, providing the prelude to more testimony by Colorado Springs landslide victims and experts to be presented to the council and mayor Tuesday. "It's been a year, and the whole house is beginning to sag. We're hearing popping noises all night long, and I have a heavy tile roof that undoubtedly is going to collapse," said Cripps, one of several landslide victims on Broadmoor Bluffs Drive. "I'm really grateful that the city and city's staff has been very helpful to the neighbors on Broadmoor Bluffs and I think on Zodiac Drive as well," said Cripps, who was invited by Councilman Keith King to testify. Cripps said Mayor John Suthers

Local landslide victims - outraged that they're expected to pay for appraisals, closing costs and demolition of their ruined houses - now hope that Colorado Springs City Councilman Keith King can help. King and Councilman Tom Strand met with about a dozen homeowners Friday in Lower Skyway and vowed to work to bring them some relief. The 500-year record rainfall of May 2015 prompted slides that landed 26 homeowners in Lower Skyway, Broadmoor Bluffs and Broadmoor Resorts on a list seeking buyouts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Colorado Springs planning officials were working with dozens of people whose homes were damaged by landslides this year when they gave the OK to build more townhouses in a landslide zone, relying on a 14-year-old geological hazard report that doesn't address landslide risks. No updated report was required despite landslides that caused at least $6.4 million in damage last year, destroying or nearly wrecking 26 homes in Colorado Springs. "If we were reviewing this post-2015 landslides, we of course would require an updated report," unspecified planning staff members responded by email via city spokeswoman Jamie Fabos. Evidently not. City staff reviewed the latest plans in December and January, allowing building permits

A huge windfall, worth $6 million to $9 million, appears to be in store for the 26 victims whose houses have been destroyed or severely damaged by Colorado Springs landslides, The Gazette has learned. That unspent money was left after several grant programs were tapped by the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to provide disaster recovery work elsewhere in Colorado. The money must be spent solely for property acquisition and demolition, and Colorado Springs' landslide victims are the only remaining eligible group, said Micki Trost, the division's strategic communications director. Other applicants have withdrawn from the program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or they have had

Colorado Springs Councilman Don Knight was taking no prisoners Thursday as he pushed for new laws to improve public notice and home construction in landslide zones. With support from Mayor John Suthers and the council, Knight will forge ahead on ordinances to provide the earliest possible notification to homebuyers about geological hazards and to ensure that building recommendations from the Colorado Geological Survey are followed. He had proposed a moratorium last week on building in landslide zones, citing The Gazette series "On Unsolid Ground" published earlier this month. Knight shelved that idea Thursday, saying, "I don't think we need a moratorium anymore if we have a sense of urgency in ensuring that what CGS

There is hope for local homeowners who want to insure their homes against threat of landslides, but getting the insurance requires extra work, brokers say. Traditional homeowner's policies don't cover landslides, so homeowners or their insurance agents have to seek special coverage, said Martin Burlingame, CEO of Commercial Insurance Group, which works with Lloyd's of London to provide one type of landslide insurance. "The problem is how you communicate that to the public," he said. "Insurance agents often don't know who to contact, so they say it can't be done, and some people don't read their policy at all and don't realize that they aren't covered." In March 2015, heavy rains saturated Colorado Springs and triggered

Even with spectacular views, a great neighborhood and a booming local real estate market, Marcy and Peter Dolan are having trouble selling their Broadmoor Bluffs home. As of Thursday, their southwest Colorado Springs home had been on the market 55 days, said Marcy Dolan. That's three weeks longer than the regional average of 36 days on market in April, according to the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors. The Dolans have dropped the price on their home by $30,000, but they have only had two showings and no offers. The problem, Marcy Dolan says: the media's coverage of landslides in her neighborhood. "We can't sell," she said.

The City of Colorado Springs filed an application Friday, seeking assistance for owners of 26 homes that have been severely damaged by landslides in 2015. The application, worth a combined $13.3 million, was for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program offered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Unless other grant money becomes available, these homeowners will compete statewide for a portion of a $3 million pool of money. In all, 79 Colorado Springs property owners asked to be in this round of buyouts.

Three Colorado Springs Councilmen want the city to impose a moratorium on building in landslide zones while a committee of council and staff members studies the issue. "There's been a string of articles in The Gazette regarding houses built in landslide areas. For us just to sit here and read the articles in the paper and then go on with our business as usual, I think is us shirking our duties," Councilman Don Knight said during a council work session Monday. Owners of about 80 homes on the city's west side have signed onto a list compiled by the city to pursue buyouts, condemnation and demolition through a state-administered program paid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

William Farkas has been trying to keep his good credit rating by making $1,500 monthly mortgage payments on his landslide-destroyed house in Colorado Springs. Upon learning Thursday that only $3 million will be distributed statewide from the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, Farkas is reconsidering his plan. His house was one of 28 that sustained landslide damage totaling at least $6.4 million, twice what is available from the federal program, reports the El Paso County Assessor's Office. "If it's $3 million (statewide), we're screwed," Farkas said. The city repeatedly has advised that, if they qualify, homeowners could receive 75 percent of the full "project cost" - i.e.

Thousands of homes on the west side of Colorado Springs are at risk from newly awakened landslides despite 40 years of warnings from geologists and city regulations created to ensure safe homebuilding. Yet houses continue to be erected in landslide-susceptible areas, even as nearby homes crumble and despite mapping of landslides since 1973. Read The Gazette's special report. About 80 homeowners seek federal emergency relief because of damage or potential damage to their houses. Of those homes, 28 have landslide damage totaling at least $6.4 million, according to the El Paso County Assessor's Office. - See the damaged homes of Rick Sisco, William Farkas and others here.

Is your home in a landslide risk zone? Search for your address below to see if your home is near a zone that the Colorado Geological Survey has classified as having landslide susceptibility.

Competition will be tough for people who own houses rattled by landslides in Colorado Springs. Dozens of homeowners are seeking compensation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but they're going up against an untold number of others statewide, said Gordon Brenner, the city's recovery coordinator. And no one knows how big a pot the state will get, Brenner said. "All we know is, our application goes into a review with the state Department of Homeland Security's emergency management, FEMA," he said. The city's application is due May 10, and officials must follow strict evaluation criteria in determining which houses were hardest hit.

Q. Will home prices go down in areas where there are buyouts? A. Probably. After the last round of buyouts in 1999 and 2000, values decreased slightly on homes next door or near those that were bought out and destroyed, said El Paso County Assessor Steve Schleiker. Those values did recover over time, he said. Schleiker said he anticipates the same trend in this round of buyouts, but the homes affected constitute a small percentage of their large neighborhoods. Q. A few homeowners told The Gazette they will wait until publicity about the landslides dies down, then will try to sell their homes. Is that a good idea? A. No. "For sellers to be so desperate to stick it to somebody else, that makes me sad for