OWN, CONO appeal to City Council on controversial duplex development
The location is a 24,000-square-foot property on a steep hill with the address of 543 Robbin Place. The uphill side is off Skyline Avenue/Chestnut Street; the downhill side is off a 12-foot-wide alley about 200 feet north of Manitou Boulevard/Boulder Street.
The owner is area developer Paul Rising of Tara Custom Homes, who plans to build three duplexes (totaling six units), each three stories high.
He needs city approval for a subdivision waiver that would allow access from the alley because the Robbin Place property lacks street frontage. Planning Commission approved this request at its Aug. 18 meeting.
The opposition is coming from nearby residents in a mostly older neighborhood of single-family homes. They are supported by the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) and Council of Neighbors and Organizations (CONO).
Based on resident comments to the city, their main concern is not so much the access, but the increased alley traffic and the landslide potential (as identified by the Colorado Geologic Survey) resulting from the builder maximizing the number of units he can build on the site's R-2 (two-family residential) zone. City code requires 7,000 square feet for an R-2 duplex or 3,500 per duplex unit. Rising is making each duplex unit its own legal parcel, allowing each one to be barely in compliance at just over
Lending urgency to the issue for the neighborhood, if the Robbin Place subdivision waiver is approved, there will be no more chances for citizen input. As explained by city staff at the meeting, a property replat (from the current three lots to six lots/three duplexes) and any ensuing building permit applications would be administratively reviewed by city and/or Regional Building Department officials.
OWN President Welling Clark calls this situation a “public process loophole [and] a city-wide issue.” A letter he sent to the city also criticizes the duplex-unit-division/ separate-property strategy. “This is not in character with the neighborhood,” he writes.
OWN, the city-recognized advocacy group for residents of the older Westside, has since enlisted the help of CONO, which represents most neighborhood groups in Colorado Springs. The appeal cost is $176.
A date for council to hear the Robbin Place matter has not been announced, but under normal procedure for such appeals, it would likely be on the agenda for a meeting in September or October.
What's uncertain is the scope that council will be allowed to consider. When Planning Commission members started asking questions about how the duplexes could be safely cut into the hillside, city staff interrupted to say that for legal reasons discussion had to be confined to the subdivision waiver request only.
The waiver was recommended for approval by Michael Turisk, the city planner assigned to the project. One of the requirements for such a waiver is showing a benefit to the neighborhood. Turisk's staff comments, as provided to the commission, show he thinks that's the case, because denying access would mean Rising can't build; also, the developer will be improving the alley.
Turisk's comments also state that the Robbin Place proposal is "infill" - defined as construction on vacant land that's surrounded by existing homes - and as such is encouraged by city policy. Additionally, he quoted a part of the city's 1980 Westside Plan, encouraging higher density in this part of the Westside.
According to Sarah Poe, a nearby resident who spoke at Planning Commission, 13 opposition letters were sent from the neighborhood. “It seems like a tight area to put all this in,” she summarized at one point. “I don't feel like this plan is compatible with our neighborhood, which is mainly single-family households.”
Westside Pioneer article