Preservation or plunder?
Mesa Road group seeks city OK to create master plan for area
City Planning staffer Steve Tuck sees it as an opportunity for “good dialog” among Mesa Road neighbors. Dave Munger, president of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations (CONO), believes “it's a good thing to encourage.” And James Kin, respresenting the Rawles Open Space Neighborhood (ROSN),
said the reason for the master plan his group has drafted - with the help of a consultant - is just to have a “convenient document” that will help 38 Mesa property owners south of 19th Street protect the rural quality of their 85-acre area.
Their views did not prevail in a vote of the Colorado Springs Planning Commission Jan. 17, after about four hours of hearings at its December and January meetings. Concerned that the ultimate objective of the master plan is to gain control over undeveloped properties in the ROSN-defined area through more restrictive zoning requirements, the commission voted 6-3 not to authorize ROSN to submit a land-use master plan to the city on behalf of the neighborhood.
ROSN has since appealed the commission's action, and the matter is scheduled to go before City Council Feb. 26.
A master plan is not in itself binding, but once approved, it can be used as a basis for rezoning the geographic area it defines, after which that zone would be law for any future development plans, explained Steve Tuck, the City Land Use Review staffer assigned to the ROSN application. He also told the commission that it is “fairly unique” for a neighborhood group to seek a master plan; typically, such is done by the city or a developer.
Commission member Robert Shonkwiler charged that Kin was part of a “group of people trying to impose land-use regulations on people that have different ideas,” and compared ROSN's quest for submittal authorization to “a camel's nose under the tent.”
Kin, a real estate attorney, told the commission that controlling other people's properties “was the furthest thing from our minds.” He described for the commission the history of the area, how it has evolved since the '40s into a tightly knit, environmentally conscious neighborhood, taking its name from the 7-acre Rawles Open Space west of Mesa Road and generally resisting the city's higher-density development tendencies over the years. “It's a very intersting, tranquil place,” he said, “one of those little gems of Colorado Springs that we reallly ought to preserve.” He himself talked to neighbors about his plans before building his house off Mesa Road 15 years ago, he said.
The main question, at least for the Planning Commission majority, was whether ROSN qualifies to be an applicant for a land-use master plan under the city charter category of a “neighborhood organization representing property owners of a specified geographical area.”
In recommending ap-proval for the ROSN application, Tuck did not analyze the group's assertion that it is representative. However, he told the commission that he thought ROSN represents the neighborhood “to a great degree.”
Asked for elaboration by the Westside Pioneer, Tuck said that city staff “historically has not questioned the legitimacy of a neighborhood organization, their boundaries or who their representatives may be.”
Regarding the ROSN plan, Tuck told the commission that its wording was not part of his analysis because the only issue on the table was whether to give ROSN submittal authority.
A few aspects of the plan emerged during the hearing testimony. But when a commission member asked Kin to provide a copy of it, he said he would only do so when his group was given the requested authority.
If ROSN ever is allowed to submit a plan, Tuck said, then the city's role would be “to engage in good dialog with all neighbors to reach a good consensus.” He added that although he has “faith” in the city's current residential-estates zoning for that area, “it may not mesh completely with the values of the folks that live there.”
Points about ROSN's legitimacy arose during the hearings: ROSN members are unelected, they did not contact some of the Rawles-area property owners about the master-plan idea before the Planning Commission meeting, and there is no certainty as to how many of the 38 property owners do or don't support the idea (although Kin said that 11 residents have contributed $18,000 so far to the plan's creation).
A Planning Commission member also questioned the makeup of the ROSN committee, in that one of its members lives outside (just north of) the area that would be affected by the master plan. Kin said he didn't think that was a major issue - the person was simply called on for his expertise in land-use matters in general and the Mesa Road area in particular.
The hearings revealed that most of the ROSN properties have been developed. Owners of several undeveloped properties spoke in opposition, saying they especially disliked the part of the master-plan draft requiring a 100-foot setback from the road (the current rule is 25 feet).
“This 100-foot setback is going to put me right in front of my neighbor behind me,” Ben Syler, one of those owners, told the commission. “I just can't go along with that… The people drawing it up, it's not going to affect them. To say we have to give this up for the neighborhood association is not right.”
Another owner, Marilyn Hull, offered similar points. She and Mary Twombly, who is also an owner of undeveloped Mesa Road land, said in separate comments that ROSN had never contacted them. Twombly described the group as “self-appointed” individuals who have “made no attempt to work with us.”
ROSN has represented the Rawles area's rural quality to the city before - in fact, in 2009, when Kin and others created the ROSN name, the group successfully appealed a Planning Com-mission decision that would have allowed the Horizon View development of five units on five acres in the 1600 block of Mesa Road. City Council sided with ROSN's appeal for preservation of its area's ambiance and a suggested reduction to three units. Saying that made the project unaffordable (the original proposal had been for nine units), the property owner eventually discontinued her effort.
That owner, Dr. Kristin Hembre, has also taken a position against ROSN being authorized to submit a neighborhood master plan.
Other than Kin, the only speaker in support of the application at Planning Commission was Dave Munger of CONO, a consortium of city-wide neighborhood organizations. “CONO strongly supports the idea that if a significant number of people in a neighborhood, no matter how it's constituted, think it's important to develop a master plan, that's a good thing to encourage,” Munger said. “It encourages discussion, for the community to decide what's in its best interests.”
This prompted a retort from commission member Jeffrey Markewich: “All this has encouraged is bad feelings. It doesn't sound like the organization has done a good job of reaching out to the property owners.”
After the December hearing, the commission voted to postpone the matter a month to give ROSN a chance to reach all the property owners and obtain 100 percent backing. But at the January hearing, it was evident this had not occurred.
Kin still said he has 75 percent of the owners behind him, which he believes is more than enough to show neighborhood support. However, he conceded that he has no petition substantiating that number.
One of the votes in opposition to the commission majority Jan. 17 was cast by Eric Phillips, who expressed the belief that ROSN could not be expected to obtain 100 percent support. “I believe we should give them the opportunity to present that plan,” he said.
Westside Pioneer article