Brakes Slammed on Upscale Cluster Home Bid In Paradise Area

~ by Bob Volpe ~

Last week’s regular meeting of the Woodland Park Planning Commission was packed with residents of the Paradise subdivision, dead set against a proposed cluster home development on property known as “Top of Paradise.”

After considerable debate, the commission strongly sided with the homeowners and signaled the red light for a controversial housing project

The project would allow for the construction of 13 cluster homes on seven acres that was once part of the Paradise Ranch dude ranch that operated from 1950 through 1969. The proposed project would be the first phase of developing 190 units on the 56-acre site. Each home would be approximately 2200 square feet of living space, and cost from $550,000 – $700,000 depending on options and amenities.

The area in question has been the subject of concern, because of drainage problems in the past. The land is a basin that drains runoff from the surrounding hillsides in the Pike National Forest.

In the past, heavy storms have inundated the area with flooding, and the planning commission refused to consider any development until the drainage issues were addressed.

Engineer for the project, Mike Bramlin, spoke to the commission about improvements to the drainage and asserted that the drainage issues have been mitigated with the addition of storm pipes, inlets, curb and gutter, and upgrading a retention pond.

The concept of “cluster homes” is new to Woodland Park, although they are fairly common in other more populated areas. With this new concept, city planning has amended their codes to accommodate the building of cluster homes.

City Planning Director Sally Riley gave a comprehensive presentation outlining the plan and how it meets the criteria for approval. City staff recommended approval of the project on the grounds that it meets all city requirements.

Big Opposition Mounts Against Project

But the plan encountered much resident opposition and got a skeptical review from the planning commission members.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, no less than nine residents spoke out against the project. Resident concerns dealt with such issues as migratory paths of wildlife, the density of the project, lower property values, drainage, trailhead access and worries about the $550,000 starting price.

One resident, Mike Nakia, who is a former firefighter, showed slides of cluster homes that were destroyed in the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs due to a lack of defensible space around the homes. He contended that during that fire, several homes with defensible buffers survived the fire, while several blocks of cluster homes were destroyed due to house-to-house ignition.

Will Brown, who owns 80 acres of land in Paradise, and once sought to develop the property that encompasses the proposed project, spoke to the commission about his experience with the area. Brown said, “I go back 45 years. I’ve seen the flows that come off this mountain. I’ve seen 12 feet of water. I’ve seen 8 feet of water, 6 feet of water, 10 feet of water.”

He commented on infrastructure he built to channel those flows down the street to prevent flooding and how expanding the retention pond created problems with seepage that flooded the basements of two homes located downhill from the pond. Brown also mentioned he planted over 400 trees in the flood plain that have nearly all been washed away by flooding. He said, “The whole thing is a drainage thing. You can put in a few culverts and a few inlets, but you can’t solve Mother Nature.”

After all the testimony was heard from the public and the applicant, the commission discussed whether to approve the project. In the end Planning Commission Board Member Peter Scanlon made a motion to deny the request.

The commission voted 8-1 to deny the request. Vice-Chairman Geoff Watson
was the only member to vote in favor of the project. The primary reasons cited for the denial were: the density issue, setbacks on driveways, drainage, and trail access.

Planning Commission Chairman Jon DeVaux said, “I came into this thinking this was a good idea. After listening to all you good folks here, I don’t think we need to harm the people that are already here.”

DeVaux suggested the developer, Mark McNab, rethink the project and come back to the commission with a new plan.

Despite the vote, the developer still has the option of bringing the proposal to the city council.