06_17_20 smoke0004b.jpg (copy)

The setting sun burns through the smoke over Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region in

June 2020. Westside neighborhoods are forming a coalition to advocate for safe development and clear communication about wildfire risk west of Interstate 25.

The threat of wildfire and ongoing growth in the shadow of Colorado Springs mountains, recently sparked Westside Watch, a group aiming to bring neighborhoods together to advocate for the area's safe development.

Neighborhoods west of Interstate 25 face higher risks of wildfire and potential floods that can cause soil stability issues, said Bill Wysong, an organizer with the new group and president of the Mountain Shadows Community Association. At the same time, more infill projects are coming to the area creating traffic congestion and potentially making the area more unsafe in an emergency, he said. 

Wildfire escape model in Colorado Springs denied by city staff

"We need to do something to bring together all the west side communities to make sure we speak with one voice," he said. Neighbors from the Broadmoor area, Pleasant Valley, Kissing Camels Cathedral Ridge and others have all expressed interest and the organization is still gaining traction, he said.

Wysong got involved in westside safety concerns because the city may allow 400 new apartments on Garden of the Gods Road, a proposal that sparked intense opposition and highlighted residents' worries about wildfire and evacuations. His group organized a petition that garnered 6,500 signatures and raised close to $12,000. 

The community has called for an evacuation traffic model to assess the risk, saying that similar models have been elsewhere. The city staff have no plans to complete an evacuation model saying it couldn't reasonably be done because there are too many variables that make fires unpredictable, The Gazette reported on Monday

The fight over the evacuation model and related issues has sparked some mistrust within the community, Wysong said. The group would like to see far more transparency from the city around safety issues, he said. The group is not anti-growth, but they want to make sure that more density won't make existing safety issues worse, he said. 

"What’s more important than our own security?" he said. 

Council President Tom Strand said he has asked the staff to present on wildfire modeling at a meeting this month. 

"I want to do anything I can to dispel distrust," he said. He was not familiar by the new group, but he was also not surprised that were forming. 

Councilman Dave Donelson, who represents northwest Colorado Springs, said he hopes that trust can be restored if it's been lost and expects the city to keep working on wildfire risk issues. 

He said he is interested in how other communities have done wildfire evacuation modeling and how accurate it is when compared to a real scenario.

"We want to use the most effective tools," he said. 

Citizen groups like Westside Watch could be a positive force to help ensure the government is focused on issues important to the neighborhoods. 

Wysong said the group is getting started because the neighborhoods don't feel like the city listens to their concerns when considering new development. 

"We have swung over to the point of build, build, build with disregard to anyone that already lives in an area," he said. 

While Wysong and others got involved because of the apartments proposed on Garden of the Gods Road, he expects the new group to be active after a final decision on the apartments. The exact mission and form of the group is still in development.

"People are going to want to have a vehicle to be heard," he said.  

Learn more at westsidewatch.org

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or (719) 429-9264.

Mary Shinn has worked at The Gazette since 2020 covering city hall, local politics and environmental issues. Previously, she worked for The Durango Herald from 2013 to 2020 covering city hall, education, environment and agriculture. In 2013, Shinn was a News 21 fellow and worked on an investigative series focused on veteran's issues. 

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