Appeal falls short on Sentinel Ridge

       The Sunrise Company's proposed 88-lot Sentinel Ridge-West housing development gained City Council approval on a series of 7-2 votes Feb. 24.
       Overriding an appeal by nearby neighborhood associations, the decision clears Sunrise to start applying for building permits on 28 acres southwest of the Fillmore Street and Mesa Road intersection.
       Sunrise, a multi-state firm, plans to create a gated community, grading as needed to fill in the uneven terrain and erecting a privacy/sound wall along Fillmore Street. Accesses would be onto Grande Vista Circle, off Fillmore Street, and Mesa Road next to Holmes Middle School. Another 17 acres, mostly to the south, would become private open space.
       Council's action upheld without change the approval by the Planning Commission last September.
       Although a defeat for the opponents, there was at least the solace of gaining one concession since then: Sunrise's agreement to build a new student pickup/drop-off and teacher parking lot at the north end of Holmes. Because the Mesa Road access would potentially add cars to the longtime traffic jams at the start and end of school each day, Sunrise Company President Dirk Gosda has been meeting with neighborhood representatives and school officials to hammer out the plan.
       The project would become phase 1 of a four-phase plan for 134 acres Sunrise owns southeast of Fillmore and Mesa. Submittals have not come in for the other phases, but tentative plans, as announced by Gosda, call for a total of 286 homes on 60 of those acres.
       Foes of the Sentinel Ridge-West were chiefly upset with the removal of protective hillside and streamside overlay zones from the property (although a new streamside overlay would be added elsewhere). Without those zones, Sunrise will be able to pack up to 25 feet of fill dirt over an existing drainage (running the water through a pipe beneath it) down the middle of the property, just south of Fillmore. According to the developer, this will allow a road with homes to be built all the way across the land between Mesa and Grande Vista, rather than to have the two sides separated by the drainage.
       This issue dramatizes diametrically different views on key aspects of the project. While Gosda, along with City Planner James Mayerl, have insisted that the drainage to be filled in lacks the qualities of a stream worth preserving - noting that the main flow comes from the city water treatment plant on the other side of Fillmore - the neighbors have argued to the contrary. “It's a historic drainage basin,” longtime resident Patti Freudenberg, who had helped the city create the streamside overlay concept, told council. “General Palmer would have traversed this land.”
       And, neighbor George Maentz, one of the individual appelants, contended that Sunrise could still have a viable development without filling in that drainage. But Sunrise has rejected that notion, claiming the mitigation costs would be too high.
       No one opposed Mayerl's idea to put in the new streamside designation (on a second creek through the easterly part of the property). This drainage has more of the streamside characteristics and “really cries out to be preserved,” he said.
       Quoting from dialog at the Planning Commission meeting, Maentz charged that the actual idea for eliminating the overlays started with Mayerl, who has been the city's lead planner for the Westside for many years. Mayerl did not deny this allegation, per se, but explained that he had been trying to help the developer come up with a project that worked best with the land. “Part of planning is the trade-off of problems,” he said.
       But this didn't stop a couple of neighbors from noting projects they knew of, or in which a family member had been involved, where the city had not budged from the hillside overlay requirement. They felt a fairness issue was involved.
       “The compromise they [Mayerl and the developer] decided on abandoned city ordinances and allowed for the complete alteration of 28 acres of the property,” Maentz told council.
       In another part of the meeting, Mayerl said that the development plan significantly reduces the density that could have been built on Sentinel Ridge-West. Under the master plan for all of Sunrise's holdings on the Mesa, theoretically 324 units could have gone in.
       Another neighbor concern was land stability, because there has been slippage in properties in that area. The Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) even requested that the city have the developer post a bond to insure homeowners against any landslides. But Mayerl cited a geohazard study that showed no such problems on the property, and no council member posed the bond as a motion.
       Even with Sunrise's planned Holmes improvements, opponents were not 100 percent pleased with the traffic situation. One neighborhood representative, Marj Webster, said the residents' wish was to make the Mesa Road access just one-way. However, such a scenario could have led the developer to back out from those improvements (because then Sentinel would have almost zero traffic impact on Mesa), it was stated at the meeting.
       In favor on each of the votes were Mayor Lionel Rivera, Larry Small, Jerry Heimlicher, Tom Gallagher, Margaret Radford, Scott Hente and Darryl Glenn; and opposed were Randy Purvis and Jan Martin.
       The actual council votes were to approve a major amendment to the approved Garden of the Gods Club Master Plan, a change of zone classification from R/HS/SS (Residential Estate with Hillside and Streamside Overlay) to PUD/SS (Planned Unit Development with Streamside Overlay for detached single-family residential, a PUD plan, a PUD Development Plan, and a final subdivision plat.
       The company plans to design, build and market the houses, with prices from $400,000 to $1 million.

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