NewsCovering Colorado


Developer seeks luxury hotel in Black Forest

Resident argue sketch plan conflicts with county master plan
Flying Horse North Sketch Plan Medium.jpeg
Posted at 12:08 PM, Jan 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-16 14:08:32-05

EL PASO COUNTY — A real estate developer wants to build a luxury hotel in Black Forest. The proposal was included in a revised sketch plan for Flying Horse North and approved during a land use review by El Paso County Commissioners in November.

Several neighbors in Black Forest believe the proposal violates the county master plan and are lobbying commissioners to reject it.

Terry Stokka is president of the 2,600-member Friends of Black Forest. He moved here roughly 30 years ago after retiring from the Air Force.

"We love it here and we want to preserve it," Stokka said.

Stokka also serves as Chair of the Black Forest Land Use Committee which oversees the Black Forest Preservation Plan. That plan governed real estate development in the forest for decades.

"The Black Forest Preservation Plan was the first small area plan they call it, the first small area plan for the State of Colorado," Stokka said.

Any house built in the forest must be located on a lot that measures at least 5 acres.

“The lots were set at a five-acre minimum in the forested area just for the purpose of both not taking down more unnecessary trees and more roads and more clearing, and also just to preserve water because we're all on private wells,” he explained.

Rick Stauch, a board member for the Cathedral Pines Metropolitan District, shares Stokka's love of the forest. He grew up in Colorado Springs and saw an opportunity to buy a dream home in Black Forest when the Cathedral Pines development was approved.

"Growing up, Black Forest was always this magical place."

Homes in Cathedral Pines are built on smaller 2.5 acres lots. However, Stauch explained that the county managed to honor the limits of the preservation plan by including a large open space as part of the development.

"Overall, when you looked at the plan for Cathedral Pines, including the open space, on average we had a density of one house per five acres," Stauch said.

The preservation plan was replaced in May of 2021by the new El Paso County Master Plan. That document recommends minimum lot sizes of 2.5 acres for Rural Residential zoned areas such as Black Forrest.

The master plan for Flying Horse North included 283 residential lots, a golf course, and open space when it was approved by commissioners in 2018.

In addition to the hotel, the revised sketch plan also calls for 846 residential lots.

Phil Stuepfert, a consultant with H.R. Green, gave the presentation for the sketch plan to the board on behalf of developer Elite Properties of America, Inc.
Stuepfert explained how the the proposal for residential lots in the forested area will maintain the 2.5 acre size.

"Now, in those areas, we are doing 2.5 acre lots that are just like all of the other developments that are in the Black Forest," he said. "We're matching that exactly."

The higher-density parts of the sketch plan will have lot sizes of less than an acre and are placed east of the forest. The sketch plan places the hotel in the forest.

Stokka, Stauch, and other Black Forest residents believe the hotel and smaller lots conflict with the new county master plan which considers Black Forest as rural residential zoning.

Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez, Jr. was the only board member to vote against it.

"El Paso County spent over 2 years and over $600,000 updating our land use master plan that looked into all areas of the county including the Black Forest area," he said. "And so, I thought if we're going to spend that many man hours and that much of our taxpayers funds that we should try to follow the master plan."

The vote was a 3-1 decision in favor of the developer with commissioner Holly Williams, who represents Black Forest, recusing herself. Land use meetings are quasi-judicial hearings, meaning board members should avoid any bias when making their decisions.

"There was a conversation that I had while this matter was under consideration. Because of that conversation, I have concerns about my ability to hear the matter fairly," Williams said before leaving the meeting.

Stokka said more than 700 members of the Friends of Black Forest provided public comments opposing the new sketch plan at both the planning commission meeting and land use meeting.

Stauch explained that residents are worried about the impact of higher-density housing and commercial developments on roads and water.

"We were trying to put together a very clear package as to why Flying Horse North is not the kind of development that ought to be put into Black Forest," he said.

Commissioner Stan VanderWerf said he strives to treat every developer the same.

"We have a whole set of requirements, and it's a large set of requirements. And if they meet those requirements, my inclination is to approve that and I would do that in the exact same way for any developer that comes before the Board of County Commissioners," he said.

The El Paso County Planning Commission gave county commissioners no recommendation on the sketch plan as their involvement ended with a 4-4 split vote.

VanderWerf said he appreciated all of the public input on the development and stressed that the sketch plan is a very early step in the process.

"It’s, in my opinion, a declaration of the intent of the developer. And there’s plenty that still has to be done with regard to sufficiency in zoning when we get to the specific design of the development," he said.

Still, the trend of the project thus far has left Stokka feeling as if their voices don't matter.

"We thought we had a strong case and we thought we had a lot of support from the county master plan, but it just became apparent to us that this was something that we were not going to win."

Watch KOAA News5 on your time, anytime with our free streaming app available for your Roku, FireTV, AppleTV and Android TV. Just search KOAA News5, download and start watching.