Proposal for senior-living complex with tall building on Mesa sent back to Planning Commission
The council majority agreed with appelants that Chapter 6 of the City Comprehensive Plan - which urges building with a “positive relationship between its [the city's] natural setting and scenic qualities” - was not considered by the commission when it dealt with the matter in January.
Another council concern was the extent of public outreach by City Planning, with no public meetings having been held.
The language of council's vote to uphold the appeal Jan. 26 specifically instructs the commission to consider Chapter 6 and to “include public input.”
The proposed Sentinel Ridge Senior Living project is on a 26.5-acre Mesa property near Coronado High School, south of Fillmore Street, on open land in back of Grand Vista Circle. The applicant is the Kimley-Horn Company, a Denver private planning firm representing Senior Quality Lifestyles Company (SQLC), a Texas firm seeking to build up to 266 independent living units, 40 memory care units, 66 assisted living units and 56 beds for skilled nursing care.
Susan Wood-Ellis, the lead project spokesperson at council, said that SQLC is one of the largest senior-living service providers in the country and will
Ellis expressed concern about planning delays. “They're [SQLC] in a timeline to get into the ground,” she said. “There is a window of opportunity, and they very much need to keep moving along.”
The zone change request came within one vote of approval at City Council (a 4-4 tie) before a 6-2 vote agreed to refer the entire matter back to the commission, which itself had only approved the application on a 5-4 vote at its Jan. 21 meeting. The commission minority was dissatisfied about basically the same issues as the council majority, according to a staff summary.
The six councilmembers in favor were Merv Bennett, Helen Collins, Keith King, Don Knight, Bill Murray and Tom Strand; opposed were Larry Bagley and Andy Pico. Councilmember Jill Gaebler was absent.
The flashpoint issue for the citizen appeal was Sentinel Ridge's independent living building, which was proposed at 67 feet tall. Coming on top of council's November zoning approval for a different project - a future 12-story hospital building on Centennial north of Fillmore - the Mesa Road group saw a worrisome precedent.
Ellis herself referred to the hospital as part of the SQLC justification for having taller buildings (although another SQLC spokesperson told council that SQLC would be willing to lower the 67-foot structure by 10 feet).
The site was previously master-planned in its entirety and zoned in part for high-density residential (R-5). As suggested by City Planning, a zone change to planned unit development (PUD) for the whole 26.5 acres would provide construction flexibility, including the allowance of building heights greater than the 45-foot R-5 limit.
The Mesa Road group consists of homeowners (mainly between Uintah and 19th streets) who for many years have fought to keep their area's rural style and resisted building projects perceived as threatening to that.
Although the project is over a mile north of that area, James Kin, the chief Mesa Road spokesperson, argued that it will compromise their views. According to a letter signed by Kin and 16 others from his neighborhood, they also seek a
Towards that end, the Mesa Road group has worked with the Council of Neighbors and Organizations (CONO) to organize a community meeting Tuesday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Colorado Springs Utilities building, 2855 Mesa Road. A Westside Pioneer article on this meeting can be found at this link.
The Comprehensive Plan issue illustrates how its guidelines can contradict each other, Planning Director Peter Wysocki told council. In recommending approval of the SQLC proposal, Michael Schultz, the planner assigned to the project, indicated to council that he was trying to avoid confusion by focusing on Comprehensive Plan portions that supported his favorable recommendation.
Councilmember Knight disagreed with that approach, saying it would be better for those voting to know all the Comp Plan impacts, pro and con.
Regarding public outreach, SQLC's Ellis argued that such isn't required at this juncture - other than Planning Commission and City Council hearings on the zone change - because of the master-plan fit. SQLC will eventually bring forward specifics for individual buildings, and “there will be an opportunity for public comments at that time,” she said.
Other land issues exist. The property has a hillside overlay designation, which SQLC wants to retain, although that will mean certain building restraints. A big reason for a hillside designation is the steep slopes farther south on the site. Much of that, about a third of the overall acreage, will be donated as open space, Ellis explained.
There are also ground stability concerns, which need to be studied in greater detail by the Colorado Geologic Survey, according to Schultz' staff report.
Owned by the Garden of the Gods Club LLC, part of the SQLC acreage had been included in a 45-acre area parcel called Sentinel Ridge that gained council approval in 2014 south of Fillmore and east of Mesa Road. The LLC represents the Sunrise Company, which owns more than 1,000 Mesa-area acres in all, under what's titled the Garden of the Gods Club Master Plan.
Westside Pioneer article