Nearly seven years after the devastating Waldo Canyon fire destroyed hundreds of Colorado Springs homes, Parkside at Mountain Shadows, a community that lost 141 of its 178 homes, has nearly finished rebuilding.
Former Parkside at Mountain Shadows Home Owner’s Association Board member Ros Block described the 2012 fire as terrifying.
“The whole thing was totally surreal,” Block said. “The traffic was backed up for miles, and you could see the flames in your rearview mirror,” she added about a second round of evacuations. “There were people riding their horses out of the valley. It was just a very, very scary (and) surreal time.”
Block’s home was one of the few in the neighborhood spared from the fire. She was also among the residents who returned to the neighborhood to rebuild.
“The difficult thing was, after the fire, everybody scattered, no one knew where the board members were (and) nobody knew how to get a hold of anybody,” Block said, adding that it took a few months for the community to establish a new community homeowners’ association board and begin rebuilding.
Board members estimated that half of the residents returned to the neighborhood. The others moved on and sold their land, possibly because they were too devastated to return.
“Some people left right away,” said Steve Lutz, current vice president of the board. “One of the guys that used to be a board member, he just sold his lot like dirt cheap, and he wanted out, and he wanted a new community. Several other people were kind of the same way because they felt, I think, it’s hard to lose everything and you looked at it, it looked like a bombed out area, it was just so devastated.”
Developers were able to purchase lots in the community for less than they were worth after the fire. After the rebuilds, however, the property values have more than doubled.
After re-establishing the board, the community members dealt with a variety of complex issues like irrigation, Internet and electricity lines, and needing to completely re-lay the foundations for the destroyed homes. Colorado Springs Together, an organization established to help the community rebuild after the fire, offered much-needed assistance.
“That was probably the biggest catalyst that got us and all the other people in Mountain Shadows (rebuilding),” Block said. “It was very, very helpful. They had people from the city, from the county, from (Colorado Springs) Utilities, and they met every week and identified issues that needed to be resolved in the communities.”
With help and collaboration from community, Colorado Springs Together, and other organizations, Parkside was able to rebuild more quickly than they would have without the collaboration and assistance.
“We owe a lot of people a lot of things,” former board member Jerry Neff said, referencing the community’s new management company that worked hard to help rebuild, the maintenance company, the community’s legal team, and the insurance agents. “There’s a bunch of people that helped us rebuild.”
Parkside is a covenant community, meaning residents sign covenants, pay monthly fees and comply with neighborhood regulations in exchange for services like water, trash removal, landscaping, and snow removal. When residents started rebuilding after the fire, they wanted to use different builders and landscapers, making compliance more challenging.
“That was sort of unique,” Neff said. “We had about 30 builders building homes in here, and we had about 30 landscapers, so it’s completely different than buying into an HOA where they come in and say ‘Here’s your landscaping, it’s done, here are the covenants, they’re done, sign here,’ and that’s what you get.”
Builders were required to comply with a set of neighborhood guidelines and to seek board approval for things like house colors and landscaping when they began to rebuild.
The board realized that the community’s covenant needed to be updated to comply with Colorado laws and to update the language for clarity. The process of drafting and approving covenants requires legal counsel and a majority vote of approval from the community. Though Parkside residents had already agreed to live in a covenant community, some people took the opportunity to contest the regulations, and others abstained from voting, which slowed the approval process.
“We started about two-and-a-half years ago,” Neff said of drafting the new covenants. “It’s like rebuilding this community, you know? Normally you go into a community like this, and you sign the covenants, and you like them or you don’t. Well now here, people have an input, OK, they don’t like this, they don’t like that, so it’s been a difficult time.”
The board will continue moving forward with approving the new covenants. Parkside is in the process of completing construction on its next-to-last home.