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Alley-widening idea changes outcome at City Council hearing on Robbin Place

       In a surprise outcome, Colorado Springs City Council postponed to its Oct. 24 meeting action on a small but controversial Westside duplex project proposal.
       The decision came near the end of a two-hour-plus public hearing at the Sept. 26 meeting, when Councilmember Don Knight
A graphic using an aerial photo shows the neighborhood around the proposed Robbin Place property (outlined in red), in conjunction with the Tara Custom Homes request to the city for a subdivision waiver. North is up. Chestnut Street runs north-south next to the left side of the Robbin site. See article for more details.
Courtesy of Colorado Springs Planning
offered a new idea on fire-truck access after a motion was already on the floor that would have let the project go forward.
       At issue was/is a three-building/six-unit proposal by Tara Custom Homes on a 24,000-square-foot hillside property at 543 Robbin Place (between the west 500 blocks of St. Vrain and Boulder streets). The concept is to build three three-story duplex buildings, each just over 7,000 square feet in size.
       As proposed, the residents' only access would be a 12-foot-wide alley between St. Vrain and Boulder.
       Council was hearing an appeal by several people in the surrounding neighborhood who were displeased by Planning Commission's three-item project approvals in July. One commission approval waived the city code requiring a 20-foot road width for fire trucks responding to calls.
       During their Sept. 26 hearing, councilmembers were assured by Fire Department officials that 12 feet would work for Robbin; also that a make-or-break fire-truck field test would occur once Tara Homes upgraded the alley access at either end (as part of upgrades on its entire length), and that the duplex units would be equipped with sprinklers, which minimizes the chance of fire.
Dee Dengler speaks for her neighborhood around Robbin Place at the Sept. 26 City Council meeting.
Westside Pioneer photo from Springs TV
These facts did not impress Dee Dengler, a neighbor who was the chief spokesperson on the appeal. (Six in all spoke against the project.) She said the amount of truck alley-access clearance - 6 inches in one case - is “not much,” especially for a truck answering an emergency call.
       She also thought the waiver set a bad precedent. “Does that mean every future developer will ask the fire marshal to waive codes for them?” Dengler asked.
       Additional staff comments expressed no major problems with any aspects of the project proposal.
       This led Councilmember Jill Gaebler to make a motion to deny the appeal. David Gieslinger seconded.
       That was when Knight raised his hand. Like Dengler, he was not happy about relaxing the fire-truck access requirement. “The standards are there for a reason,” he said.
       Noting that the actual alley easement width is 20 feet, Knight proposed using all that space for the roadway. This would require removing the power poles that are now in the easement, but a beneficial side effect would be undergrounding the alley's electrical wiring - a change
Lonna Thelen of City Planning is shown during her presentation on Robbin Place at the Sept. 26 City Council meeting.
Westside Pioneer photo from Springs TV
in keeping with an ongoing Colorado Springs Utilities program, he outlined.
       Lonna Thelen, the city planner presenting the Robbin staff report, said the only concern would be if there are structures within the easement. She doesn't think there are, but told council she would need to confirm that.
       Tara owner Paul Rising did not object to Knight's idea, agreeing that the wiring “should be underground.” However, he did not volunteer to cover the cost, so how that aspect will be addressed is currently undetermined.
       On Knight's motion, council agreed without opposition to delay the Robbin appeal as a whole until staff can review the alley-widening concept. A report on that is anticipated at the public hearing Oct. 24. It too will be a public hearing, but Council President Richard Skorman noted that comments will need to be limited to the alley matter because testimony has already been heard on everything else.
       In all, Tara has submitted three formal requests to the city for the Robbin project, all of which were approved by the Planning Commission and all of which the neighborhood appealed to council, at a cost of $176. The three are (in bold):
       Subdivision waiver. The fire truck access question is related to this request. It would also let the duplex residents use the alley for sole
Colorado Springs Fire Marshal Brett Lacey answers questions from City Council during the Robbin Place hearing.
Westside Pioneer photo from Springs TV
access. Normally developments must be situated on a street. The property once had access onto Chestnut Street (at the steep upper end of the property), but it was abandoned by a previous owner 30 years ago, according to the City Planning report.
       In any case, laws generally require governments not to deny property owners public access to their land.
       Preliminary/final plat. Final city approval of these documents, showing the scale layout of the buildings on the property, would let Rising start working on the development plan leading to construction.
       His proposal calls for the duplexes to be built in the flatter area at the bottom of the hill, facing the alley and including off-street parking spaces.
       Speaking for the neighborhood, Dengler quoted documents stating that Robbin site's steep hill is “susceptible to landslide.” However, Rising's geologic consultants, with support from government reviewers, believe that an engineered solution - including caissons sunk deep into the ground - will stabilize the terrain.
       Another neighborhood concern about the plans involves the size and density of the structures, saying they are out of character with the less tall, older-style, mostly single-family homes there now.
       Use variance. This is a technical fix, needed because of a recently updated survey causing each of the lots to be an inch or so less than the 50-foot minimum required in that type of residential zone.

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 9/29/17; Land: Proposals)

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