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Tie goes to the developer in City Council voting on Robbin Place appeal

John Osborn speaks to City Council on behalf of the neighborhood in the Robbin Place appeal Oct. 24.
Westside Pioneer photo from Springs TV
Nov. 7, 2017; updated Nov. 17, 2017
       Déjà vu is an often-used term, but there's one Westside neighborhood that can relate to its meaning.
       Twice in the past two years, Colorado Springs Planning Commission has approved the six-unit Robbin Place duplex project, envisioned for construction on a half-acre hillside between the west 500 blocks of St. Vrain and Boulder streets.
       On both occasions concerned residents in that area - mainly along Cooper Avenue, just to the east - have appealed the commission's approvals to City Council.
       And both times the neighbors have come within one councilmember's vote of stopping the project.
       The déjà vu aspect took shape at the Oct. 24 City Council meeting, in the form of tie votes on two of the three elements of developer Paul Rising's submittal to the city.
       City legal staff ruled that those votes - each of which had followed a motion to uphold the appeal - meant that the appeal had failed to gain the necessary majority.
       As a result, Rising, owner of Tara Custom Homes, can start moving toward construction at 543 Robbin Place.
       According to the now-approved plans, Rising intends to build three three-story duplex buildings, each just over 7,000 square feet in size. The main resident objections have been the landslide potential, the use of an alley - narrower than city code would normally allow - for access, and that the
A Colorado Springs Planning presentation to City Council Oct. 24 included this slide, listing problems that were discovered while researching a previous council suggestion to expand the Robbin Place alley to its full 20-foot-wide right of way.
Courtesy of Colorado Springs Planning
project will be oversized in comparison with the existing neighborhood of older single-family houses.
       “Why let someone develop six properties in a half-acre that is unsafe?” was the question posed to council by John Osborn, a Cooper resident representing the appelants.
       But city staff representatives have disagreed with such concerns and recommended approval. A city policy encouraging infill has been cited by City Planning.
       But the city has also put requirements on the developer. Outreach was one, and Rising has held numerous neighborhood meetings over a roughly two-year span, seeking to resolve issues.
       Summing up his effort as a whole, he told council at the meeting. “I have dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's, and its time to do the right thing. The city is in desperate need of homes.”
       Other city requirements are for the developer to prevent landslides by installing caissons deep into the ground before construction, to improve the alley (including its drainage) and to upgrade access to it. Also, the alley is to become one way, northbound, to lessen the impact of its narrowness.
       The following are reports on the two developer requests that resulted in tie votes at the Oct. 24 meeting:
       - Subdivision waiver. A quirk of the project at the outset was that the property had no street access. A former access point off Chestnut Street, at the steep upper end of the site, had previously been vacated.
       City code requires new houses to face onto roadways 20 feet wide. So Rising asked the city for a waiver to use the 12-foot-wide alley (named Robbin Place) at the
Robbin Place developer Paul Rising (left) looks at a screen projection with Quentin Armijo, a contracted drainage engineer with Terra Nova Engineering, during a presentation to Planning Commission in July. The commission voted in favor, but the decision was appealed to City Council by several neighbors.
Westside Pioneer photo from Springs TV
lower end. Brett Lacey, the city fire marshal, said this would be OK for fire trucks, as long as a physical test - after the required access upgrades are in place - proves that a truck can successfully make the turn.
       The neighbors' alley concerns were backed by Councilmember Don Knight, who said Oct. 24 that he opposed a “waiver on safety.” Noting at a late-September council meeting that 20 feet is the actual alley right of way, he had suggested then that the alley be widened to that distance, thus solving the problem.
       However, Lonna Thelen, the city planner assigned to Robbin, told council Oct. 24 that a survey taken since the September meeting had shown that the widening “is not possible,” in large part because of structures in the right of way.
       “I trust the fire marshal,” Councilmember David Gieslinger said, speaking on behalf of the “no” side on the waiver. In support,
A drainage engineering consultant's drawing, presented at a neighborhood meeting in February 2017, provides a conceptual depiction for handling the hillside terrain issues in the Robbin Place development. The two planned rows of slope-stabilizing caissons, to be set 35 feet into the ground, are represented by the darkened vertical rectangles.
Westside Pioneer photo
Councilmember Andy Pico pointed out that the alley access is already being used by some of the current residents.
       Standing with Knight was Councilmember Bill Murray, who questioned the wisdom of “increasing density in a narrow alley.”
       Murray moved to uphold the appeal, leading to the first of the two tie votes. “Yes” was to uphold the appeal; “no” was to support the developer.
       On the latter side were Gieslinger, Pico, Jill Gaebler and Tom Strand.
       Voting yes were Knight, Murray, Yolanda Avila and Richard Skorman (the council president, whose District 3 the development would be in).
       All nine councilmembers were at the meeting, but Merv Bennett, who had missed the September confab, recused himself, resulting in the 4-4 tie that was ruled in favor of the developer.
       - Preliminary/final plat. A plat defines the building layout on a property.
       On this request, Murray again moved to uphold the appeal. Pico agreed. “I think six lots doesn't match the rest of the area,” he asserted.
       However, in the eventual plat vote, Pico's change of sides was offset by Knight supporting the developer. So the vote was again 4-4 (with Bennett recusing).
       This paragraph has been updated from the original article: In most cases, city code requires that a development plan be submitted after plat approval. However, that is not the case here. According to Thelen: "there is an exception in the development plan portion of code that permits lots zoned R2 to submit a prelimnary and final plat and not a development plan prior to development." However, council's plat approval does not mean the developer can immediately seek a building permit. Rising still needs to work with her on several "technical modifications" to the plat, Thelen said.
       The third, less controversial developer request was for a use variance. Thelen has said this is necessary because of a corrected survey showing each of the lots to be an inch or so less than the 50-foot minimum required in that type of residential zone.
       The council vote on this request was 6-2 against the appeal, with Murray and Avila the only yes votes.
       When council had considered the neighbors' first Robbin appeal a year ago, the body also had a tie vote. In fact, there were two - once when the motion was to uphold the appeal and again when it was to deny it. But that time there was no legal advice such as that received at the Oct. 24 meeting. Council eventually decided to reconsider the matter at a future meeting, but by that time Rising had withdrawn his submittal, with the announced goal of working with the neighborhood and resubmitting a few months later (which led to the events described above).
       Adding to the deja vu intrigue, a council election occurred in April 2017, replacing three of the councilmembers who had been in office during the first Robbin Place appeal.

Westside Pioneer article
(Land: Development Issues)

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