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Colorado Springs City Council approves controversial plan to build apartment complex on west side

Posted at 12:40 AM, Jul 10, 2024

COLORADO SPRINGS — During a meeting on Tuesday, the Colorado Springs City Council approved a development plan and rezoning to build a 222-unit apartment complex on the city's west side.

The Arrowswest Apartments will be built near the intersection of Garden of the Gods Road and North 30th Street next to Red Leg Brewing Company. Councilmembers voted 7-2 to rezone the land from business park to mixed-use and voted 8-1 to approve the apartment's development plan.

The developer, Weidner Apartment Homes, submitted the current application in February, and since then, the project has faced backlash from some nearby residents. During Tuesday's meeting, City Planning officials said they received more than 350 comments about the project and about 95% were in opposition to the apartment complex.

Many of the neighbors pushing back against the project said they had concerns about increased traffic, emergency wildfire evacuations, and said the development plan did not comply with the city's Hillside Overlay District (HS-O). The city said the current HS-O was approved in 1996 and was created to ensure developments retain their unique characteristics while safeguarding the natural features of the city. An attorney for the City of Colorado Springs said the apartment site was taken out of the Hillside Overlay District in 1989 and is not part of the current HS-O zone.

Kerri Waite, a Westside resident, said she was disappointed with the council's vote. She said she had to evacuate her home in 2012 during the Waldo Canyon Fire and said the complex could make evacuation times slower with increased density in the area.

“It’s going to make fire evacuation, safety, and the whole west side WUI [wildland urban interface] more dangerous," said Waite. “It’s going to increase traffic. It’s going to reduce the value of the beauty of the entrance to Garden of the Gods."

Colorado Springs Fire Marshal Brett Lacey answered questions from council members during Tuesday's meeting. He said the fire department does not believe Arrowswest Apartments will pose a safety risk to residents.

“The fire department does not have a concern with the number of people that are there or the number of homes that we have still that can be developed on the Westside there. The roadway network is sufficient to be able to accommodate the flow of people," he said.

Lacey said since the Waldo Canyon Fire, homes have become more durable, extensive fire mitigation work has been done in the area, and the fire department has improved its wildfire evacuation notices by notifying smaller groups of people at a time instead of "the entire West side of Colorado Springs at one time."

“I appreciate the citizens' concerns but we’re not worried that their safety will not be accounted for and everyone will get out safely," said Lacey.

Todd Baldwin, the owner of Red Leg Brewing Company, spoke during the meeting's public comment portion. At moments getting teary-eyed, he said he remained neutral on the issue and that whatever happened would be a "lose-lose" situation for his business. He said he was thankful for Weidner Apartment Homes (which has owned the planned apartment site since 2012) because the company has let him use their plot of land as overflow parking for Red Leg customers. He also said losing that space would put his loyal customers out of parking if the apartment plan was approved.

Greg Cerbana, Vice President of Public Relations for Weidner Apartment Homes, said the complex will meet a housing need in the area.

“We're grateful to the City Council today for their vote. We understand that it was not easy," he said. “It's an area that really does need housing and we understand that the vast majority of housing options in that local area are single-family homes."

Councilmember Dave Donelson and Councilmember Nancy Henjum voted against the rezoning of the land, but Donelson was the only member to vote against the apartment's development plan. During the council meeting, he said he didn't believe the location was the right place for the apartments and cited similar safety concerns as some residents.

Councilmember David Leinweber voted in support of both the rezoning and the development plan. He said he believed the complex was a better plan than having a "50-foot building" there in the future.

The Arrowswest Apartments will be built right across the street from 2424 Garden of the Gods, which was a different controversial proposal that was struck down by the Colorado Springs City Council in 2021 and again by the Colorado Court of Appeals in 2023. The plan would have added 420 dwelling units to the property already supporting commercial use. Councilmembers who voted against the 2424 Garden of the Gods project said the plan posed a public safety risk in the event of wildfire evacuations.

During Tuesday's meeting, some residents argued the Arrowswest Apartments would bring the same safety risks to the area. Kat Gayle, a member of Westside Watch, said she doesn't know if the group will file a lawsuit against the council's decision to approve the complex.

A recent law passedby Colorado legislators this year requires neighborhood groups to pay a city's legal fees if they challenge a local land use decision in court and lose. The law does not require the city to pay a neighborhood group's legal fees if it loses against them. Gayle said the new law is a big reason why neighbors may not appeal the council's decision.

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Weidner Apartment Homes said it plans to complete the apartment complex within the next two years.

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