Controversial development gets the green light from the Colorado Springs Planning Commission

City of Colorado Springs
The proposed Arrowswest Apartments sits caddy-corner from a failed proposal at 2424 Garden of the Gods. Image from a Colorado Springs staff report on the proposal.

A proposal for a controversial new apartment complex in northwest Colorado Springs is now in the hands of the city council. The city's planning commission voted 7-2 Tuesday to approve a rezoning request that would create a mixed use development – apartments and businesses – at the intersection of West Garden of the Gods and North 30th.

The development, called Arrowswest Apartments, would add about 222 new units. The location is also caddy corner to 2424 Garden of the Gods, where a similar controversial proposal had previously been denied by council for public safety reasons. 

It's an argument that critics of Arrowswest – many of the same people who spoke out against 2424 – are revisiting. The location of this intersection is in the wildland-urban interface near the Mountain Shadows neighborhood that was partially destroyed by the 2012 Waldo Canyon wildfire. They're concerned about traffic, particularly in the event of another mass evacuation.

"There is a limit to what we can do and still survive with regard to getting out of the WUI areas," said former Mountain Shadows resident Kerry Waite during the public comment period. 

Kat Gayle, legal adviser for Westside Watch, a coalition that advocates for public safety in the city's wildland-urban interface, also spoke against the proposal.

"This matter today, Arrowswest, is a matter first and foremost of public safety," she said. "The decision of the planning office to push this forward also defies the precedent of our own city council saying any increase of residential density at this intersection would naturally be an increased public safety risk."

"The Colorado Court of Appeals declared that public safety was a criterion to be used in rezoning decisions. We're not even a year out of that" decision upholding the city council's action that rejected 2424 Garden of the Gods, Gayle said.

It's a question also raised, though, by Commissioner Jack Briggs.

"Does that judicial ruling have any application to that intersection, regardless of what other proposals are out there," he asked. "Meaning, is there something that is legally applied to that intersection because of that decision?"

Trevor Gloss, an attorney for the office of the city attorney, addressed the question. "The court looks at the situation and … basically whether or not they (council) acted within their authority.." he said. The court "did not look at whether that particular intersection was safe or not."

Former city councilor Jill Gaebler spoke in favor of the proposal. She's currently the executive director of the Pikes Peak Housing Network. 

"We understand it's difficult for residents to accept growth and change to their neighborhoods," she said. But the city's master plan, known as PlanCOS, "anticipated these concerns when it states that established neighborhoods should expect some degree of infill and redevelopment."

Arrowswest is "situated in an area primarily composed of single-family homes, thus bringing a more affordable housing option for community members who cannot or choose not to purchase a home," she said.

And for Commissioner John Almy, evacuation procedures have evolved enough to support the development.

"The current procedures that the fire department is using is much improved, and I think we have to look at it in those terms and not the conditions that existed during the Waldo Canyon fire," Almy said.

Commissioners Scott Hente and Martin Rickett voted against the proposal.

But the commission's approval means it moves on to the city council for discussion and a vote. A date has not yet been set. There are four new city council members since 2424 Garden of the Gods was ultimately rejected.