On Dec. 13, 2016, the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners voted 3-2 against construction of an ingress point off westbound Woodmen Road in Falcon, Colorado, for the Falcon Marketplace shopping center. Steve Meier, director of development for Hummel Investments LLC, said without that access point, King Soopers, the proposed main anchor for the marketplace, could opt to build in another location.
“When King Soopers goes to their real estate meeting at their home office, they are presented with 50 sites around the county; and we want to put our best foot forward for this site,” Meier said. However, King Soopers made it clear that obtaining that access point is paramount to their plans to build at the Falcon Marketplace site, he said.
Ben Hummel, owner of the marketplace property, said he received a phone call from King Soopers' representatives asking if there was space in the marketplace for a buildout. Hummel said a 10.5-acre parcel was set aside for the store, and the representatives did their due diligence and sales projections to determine the viability of the location. “Really, the only thing they see that is problematic is the access to the site,” Hummel said. “They did not think access off Meridian (Road) was adequate so they asked for an access point off Woodmen.”
Hummel said the county determined there were no safety concerns about creating the access point but denied it anyway, citing sufficient access from Meridian Road to the east and the frontage road parallel to Woodmen Road to the south.
Trent Harwig, Falcon Fire Protection District fire chief, said no one asked his department for input about the ingress off Woodmen Road. Although input from the FFPD is not required, it might have swayed the BOCC vote. “I do not blame the county for not notifying us (about the proposed access point),” he said. “They did not really talk about emergency access, though, or what the fire department has to say about it.”
Harwig said he does not need the Woodmen access point to get his emergency vehicles into the marketplace site because the department can access it just as easily from Meridian Road; however, Harwig said his concern is about access to the homes in the Village at Falcon subdivision, which is adjacent to the site.
“When the Village was built, the frontage road is how to get there, and it creates an additional 2 miles of response mileage for us,” Harwig said. “We have to go down Woodmen to Golden Sage Road, do a complete 180-degree turn and come back down the frontage road. That adds about three minutes to our response time.”
Harwig said when the Village was first proposed, the FFPD initially required a right-in off Woodmen Road or another way to get into that subdivision. “The county was not really excited about doing that,” he said. “They talked about doing a break-away emergency access gate as a temporary solution but ultimately that never happened. The proposed right-in access point seems to allow us an emergency access to go right onto the frontage road and have access to the Village, and take off that three minutes of response time. That is why we would be interested in seeing that ingress built.”
Meier said the Woodmen access point solved another foreseeable problem, which is the traffic jams around the site: one will occur once the traffic signal at Meridian Road and Eastonville Road is constructed and Eastonville is extended west; and another when the Falcon School District 49 buses are lined up along the frontage road twice a day to run their routes. “With the D 49 school bus barn right there, there is a line of 50-something school buses waiting to get out of the frontage road onto Woodmen,” he said.
“Any time it is inconvenient for you to get into or out of a place as a constituent, it is probably not convenient for emergency vehicles,” Harwig said.
Hummel said there is support from the community and Mark Waller, District 2 commissioner, for King Soopers as the anchor in the marketplace. Regardless, Hummel said his company is respectful of the planning process and will try to figure out how to get back on the BOCC’s agenda.
“I think the project will go forward in some form if King Soopers does not come, but it will not be what it could be,” Meier said. “In the event that King Soopers does pass on this site because of the access situation, no, we do not have another big business to go in there. We just do not have a definitive answer."
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The Pikes Peak region has developed a name for itself in recent years as a hub for alternative and sustainable home-building ideas. The Tiny House Jamboree, now planning its third year in Colorado Springs, brought the idea of compact, mobile living to tens of thousands of visitors. In the windswept prairies between Peterson and Schriever Air Force Bases, another alternative style of home is being built, “Earthships.”
In June, the Earthship Village Colorado team will start building the first of 40 to 65 Earthship homes in a planned 400-acre community. Like the Tiny House movement, the Earthship movement has been struggling with building permits, financing, zoning and water issues.
“We have a long way to go. This is a big bird to get off the ground, but we're going to do it,” said Sara Foster-Berry, land and project manager.
While Earthships and Tiny Houses both try to be a path away from existing traditional wood-frame suburban homes, the movements have key differences. Tiny Houses try to have less impact on the environment by being mobile and encouraging residents to downsize, especially material belongings. Earthships try to incorporate the home into the environment.
“Earthships are different through their resiliency and permanency — their ability to grow food and capture rain water, heat and cool themselves,” Foster-Berry said. “A young lady who was living in a Tiny House on our property jumped ship when everything froze up in the winter after she only had it six months. Earthships are going to be standing strong many years from now; whereas, a Tiny House would probably eventually blow away with the prairie winds out where we are.”
Earthship homes have been designed and built since the 1970s, when Taos, New Mexico-based architect Michael Reynolds researched ways to build sustainable homes with materials that could be found at any location around the world. The weight-bearing walls of Earthships are generally built out from rows of used tires, which are filled with rammed earth from the building site; instead of wood and plaster. Interior walls are often adobe-like clay or “cob" over cores of earth, bottles and cans. A greenhouse lines the south face of the home to grow food for the occupants and to allow the winter sun to enter the home and warm the thermal mass walls to heat the interior. The bermed north facing wall creates a cooling effect during the summer.
“We are working toward creating resilient housing for future generations,” Foster-Berry said. Off-grid homes built largely out of rammed earth and recycled materials are less likely to be destroyed by fire, wind or other threats.
There are several existing Earthship-style homes throughout the Pikes Peak region that were built on individual properties over the years. The concept is popular in areas like Southern Colorado that have cold but relatively sunny winters. There are variations on the design that private designers have created in Black Forest and Peyton that use other materials besides rammed earth, including straw bales, poured concrete and giant cubes of shredded tires.
Older Earthships had a bad rap because of leaky roofs and overheating in the summer. The problem has been resolved with the latest designs from Earthship Biotecture, Reynolds' firm in Taos, said Chris Berry, builder manager at Earthship Village Community. Older designs had changes in roof pitch that led to leaks, and the newer models include an interior glass wall between the greenhouse and the living space, which keeps the home cooler during the summer.
“Reynolds said that if someone gave him 10 million bucks and said 'design the best Earthship you could,' he said we've already hit it,” Berry said. “They've been working on this for 30, 40 years. Yes, there's room to tune stuff, but we're there, and it does everything we dreamed it could do.”
The EVC team has been working six to 12 months at the site south of Highway 94 to create what Foster-Berry calls “the invisible structures,” before starting the first full build. “We are absolutely planning on starting construction on our first Earthship June 1; we've placed this deadline on ourselves, come what may,” Foster-Berry said. “Right now we're working on the behind-the-scenes stuff like securing financing, the help we need, finding interns, getting permitting and engineering in place.”
Fitting the round Earthship building concept into the county's square permitting hole has been a challenge for the team, as well as the expensive and lengthy water law proceedings typical of any subdivision in Colorado, regardless of how sustainable the community will be with the water. “We are caught up in water court with people upstream of us who are trying to slow our roll a little bit,” Foster-Berry said.
“Reynolds told us rather than trying to fight all these fights, think of it like when your dog needs a pill,” Berry said. “You don't just give the pill to the dog, you take some hamburger and stuff it in there. And that's what the permitting process is like, you have to sugar coat it to give them what they want, and then your overall sustainable agenda is hiding in the middle.”
The team hopes people throughout the region and around the country interested in the Earthships and planned development areas will support the crowd-funding campaign that launched Feb. 1. While banks are becoming more comfortable financing the purchase of existing Earthship homes, construction loans are still nearly impossible under current regulations at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federal mortgage associations, Foster-Berry said.
“We hope to get it off the ground, and then it will be available to the community as a community center, event center, overnight rental and model home,” she said. “It will start generating money for the community and bring in investors. But my plan is that we are eventually able to finance these homes within the structure of the community, rather than having to outsource it.”
The team hopes to raise about $350,000 to pay for the first home and finish the subdivision legal process. In exchange for donations through the Indiegogo campaign, backers would get a variety of benefits like overnight stays in the finished home and access to on-site special events.
More information about the community and the crowd-funding campaign can be found at their Facebook page, http://facebook.com/earthshipvillagecolorado.