Plumbing business finds some love in Midland

       A well-regulated commercial use in the old warehouse at Market and Broadway streets is better than no use at all - this seemed to be the predominant view at a neighborhood meeting Oct. 3.
       At issue was an application by Affordable Plumbing and Heating for a city variance to use the warehouse for offices, storage and a garage on a half-acre property in a residential zone at 1304 Market St.
       The application is scheduled to go before Colorado Springs City Council Tuesday, Oct. 11. The meeting will start at 1 p.m. at City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Ave.
       The neighborhood meeting, attended by roughly 25 people at Midland Elementary, was scheduled by City Planning staff after the proposal was defeated in a 5-3 vote by Planning Commission in September.
       Although pro-Affordable comments outnumbered con at the neighborhood meeting, some of those in favor did express concern about what would happen with the building when/if Affordable ever departed.
       People asking this question included three board members of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), which acts as an advocacy group for neighborhood interests in the older Westside. The OWN board members were Bob and Rose Kliewer and Kristine Van Wert.
       A compromise appeared to be reached at meeting's end when Tim Schutz, attorney for Affordable owners Greg and Heidi Smith, told Rose Kliewer he would agree to a city requirement that any future commercial business owner at the site must have a variance hearing. This would be stricter than normal city law, in which a variance could automatically transfer to a new commercial use in certain cases if planning staff deems it to be no more intensive than the previous one.
       “Will you make that a condition of your support?” Schutz asked Kliewer.
       “We can do that,” she said.
       Schutz also asked those in favor at the meeting to attend the council meeting or, if they couldn't attend, to sign a petition in favor of the application or send a letter of support to the city.
       The lack of citizen support for Affordable Plumbing at Planning Commission - combined with opposition from two Midland-area residents and the Kliewers - apparently influenced the body to vote contrary to planning staff's recommendation for approval.
       Bob Kliewer clarified during the meeting that OWN wasn't trying to “get in the middle of a neighborhood squabble,” but was concerned about what would happen if the Smiths “sell and move on.” OWN's opposition at Planning Commission, he previously told the Westside Pioneer, was to support what was then seen as the neighborhood position on the matter.
       The warehouse has been vacant for about four years. An auto-repair garage had been “grandfathered” there going back to 1961. In 2004, according to City Planning, a variance for a square-dance hall was approved without objection from the neighborhood. Most meeting attendees - hearing about it for the first time - appeared relieved that the dance activity never materialized, because it could have meant nighttime loud music and a potential for traffic problems.
       Nearby residents Pam Staley and Julie Musick said the vacant property has become a hang-out for bad sorts. Staley touted the Smiths as “dedicated West-siders” who have already made im-provements to the property.
       Midland Principal Barbara Bishop said she had no objection to a business there; her belief is that with “fewer empty buildings” there will be fewer temptations for her students to do mischief on the way to or from school.
       Marty Miller, who had also opposed the plan at Planning Commission, emphasized that the property is in a residential zone, and that the zoning law should be followed. She said police records show no calls reporting criminal activity there. A Midland resident since 1953, she said she and others have worked to clean up the area over the years, including efforts with city officials to rid it of junkyards and horse stables.
       This brought a retort from Staley that she liked the horses and didn't appreciate their being forced out. She said police don't have any calls because residents have learned that if they call, officers either don't come or arrive long after the offending activity has ended.
       According to comments from Schutz and Heidi Smith, the Smiths chose the Midland site largely because of their roots there. Greg Smith grew up in the Midland area, and Heidi lived there five years. Having a business in Midland now would also increase their proximity to a son who is attending Coronado High, she said.
       Heidi Smith said, “I promise you it (the warehouse property) won't look like a junkyard.”
       If the application is approved, the Smiths have previously agreed to put in landscaping, a fence and sidewalks.
       Affordable Plumbing would have four employees working in the warehouse, with no retail sales.
       An issue of possible informational inconsistency within City Planning came out during the meeting. Heidi Smith said she and Greg bought the property after being told by someone in City Planning that no variance has ever been turned down at the site. But later in the meeting someone else said he had previously been discouraged from buying the property for a commercial use because someone in City Planning told him it was in a residential zone.

Westside Pioneer article