Planning Commission OKs MVS request to shed hillside overlay

       A zone change and concept plan - including the removal of the hillside overlay - on a 47-acre property near Mesa Springs won Planning Commission approval Oct. 21 and is tentatively slated to go to City Council Dec. 14.

Looking south in a photo from 2007, the then-newly completed Colorado Springs Health Partners portion of Centennial Boulevard can be seen (foreground right) along with the partially completed segment past Indian Hills (background, top). Between them is a 550-foot right of way on a small property now owned by a bank, on which the MVS group would build a connecting Centennial segment, even though it's not on their property.
Westside Pioneer photo

       But even a council OK would not mean the proposed homebuilding for the site will occur anytime soon. Approval at council would allow the property owners, the MVS group - or another group that could take over development rights once the current plans are in place - to begin an estimated 1½-to-2-year process for a Voluntary Cleanup Plan (VCUP) to restore a former 18-acre landfill on the site. Also, a development plan to the city detailing the streets and lots for up to 411 homes will be required.
       “Who knows what the housing market will be like in two years?” MVS representative Ron Bevans asked rhetorically at the Planning Commission meeting.
       However, he did note that 411 homes is about 200 less than what would be allowed under the current zone, which MVS is seeking to change to a different type of planned unit development.
       The property, located in the undeveloped area south of Van Buren Street and west of current Mesa Springs, has a 100 percent hillside overlay now. Lonna Thelen, handling the matter for City Land Use, proposed retaining about 3 acres as hillside at the west end of the property, near an intermittent stream, saying that was the only part exhibiting the kinds of slopes and hillside character that would qualify.
       The Mesa Springs Community Association (MSCA) had been OK with such a partial overlay, President George Gravenstein and Vice President Steve Schwartz said after the meeting.
       However, Planning Commission sided with MVS representative Ron Bevans against Thelen's recommendation. Bevans told the board he believes that most of the area near the western boundary is already protected by a streamside overlay. For precedent on his request, he pointed out that the city has in recent years removed hillside on two large nearby properties - the Indian Hills Village development just north of MVS and, about a half-mile to the northeast, the as-yet-unbuilt Sentinel Hills project behind Holmes Middle School.
       Bevans also noted that the VCUP process would require moving vast quantities of dirt, including bringing in fresh soil to cover the old landfill to an average level of 12 feet. There are already certain restraints from Colorado Springs Utilities for dumping dirt on its right of way on the east part of the property, and MVS would be reticent to do so near existing neighborhoods to the east and southwest. So the only available place for the extra dirt would be to the west, in the proposed historic overlay zone, which would have strict rules about grading, Bevans noted.
       “We're not doing this to address the development potential, but to handle the VCUP,” he emphasized to the commissioners.
       No MSCA representative was at the meeting. Schwartz said he had not expected the Planning Commission to reject a Thelen recommendation that reflected neighborhood wishes on the hillside overlay. At the same time, he said he does not have a major concern that the VCUP work will be done poorly and does not expect that MSCA will mount opposition at City Council.
       The other main issue, as addressed by the MVS plan, is access. The long-discussed Centennial Boulevard extension is masterplanned to go through the property. As approved by Planning Commission, under a complicated land-swap agreement involving MVS, the city and a bank, MVS owners would need to build a missing 550- foot piece on Centennial on the bank's property to allow it to be completed between Fillmore and Van Buren streets and would donate 1,200 feet of right of way for the road through their own property. The rest of the Centennial extension south to the Fontanero interchange, including the portion through MVS, would have to be completed by the city at an unknown future date. Until such date, any residents in the MVS property could come and go via Centennial to Fillmore. Van Buren and Mesa Valley Road would be blocked or gated off (except for emergencies) to avoid “cut-through” traffic through the Mesa Springs neighborhood.
       Two residents spoke against the project at the meeting, based on access concerns.
       Joan Williams, an Indian Hills resident, said she was concerned about the additional traffic on Fillmore Street once Van Buren Street is blocked.
       The other resident, Debbie Postlewait, expressed a similar concern about Fillmore.
       Planning Commission votes needed two votes on the MVS request- one on the zone change, the other on the concept plan. The vote was 8-1 on the zone change (Commissioner Dan Cleveland opposed because of the hillside overlay removal), and 7-2 on the concept plan (Cleveland in the minority again, joined by Commissioner Diann Butlak, whose motion for direct city involvement in the VCUP implementation had failed for lack of a second).

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