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  Volume No. 17 Issue No. 2 February 2020  

None Black Forest News   None Business Briefs   None Community Calendar   None Did You Know?  
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Front Page   |   Feature Stories   |   Search This Issue   |   Log In

    Buffalo Grass — a variety of genres
    4-Way Ranch litigation continues
    Understanding property taxes
    Wolf-dog hybrids popular but short-lived as pets
    Building and real estate update
    Runaway dogs a persistent problem
  Buffalo Grass — a variety of genres
  By Leslie Sheley

   On March 15, at 7 p.m., the Buffalo Grass Acoustic Society will feature the Acme Bluegrass band, along with Shanna in a Dress and Jim Young, at the Cowboy Church of Peyton.
   Phyllis Stark, member of the BGAS, said, “Shameless, that’s what they are. Acme Bluegrass Band shamelessly walks up on that stage to have a rollicking good time, and they make no bones about it.”
   The Buffalo Grass Acoustic Society has been hosting bands monthly since November 2002, mainly featuring local artists and an occasional traveling musician.
   The BGAS started when a group of people wanted to get together on a regular basis and play music. Roger Carter, leader of the Prairie Wind band, the house band at the Cowboy Church of Peyton, invited the group to hold concerts at the church; and they are still strong 17 years later.
   “A lot of the bands say this is the best audience they’ve ever played for, so they like to come back,” said Lee Patterson, a member of the society.
   Music genres include traditional folk, bluegrass, western and other types of Americana roots music.
   “It’s a great organization; we have a lot of fun and play anything from bluegrass to country to western,” he said. “The concerts are family friendly, and we encourage families to come out and enjoy the music together.”
   Concerts are held the third Friday of each month, except December. An acoustic jam session — open for musicians of any skill level — starts at 5:30 p.m.; doors open to the public at 6:30 p.m.; the concert begins at 7. Seating is first come, first serve; comfortable and handicap accessible.
   “We sell non-alcoholic beverages and snacks at intermission,” Patterson said.
   “Acme really is a fun feature band, and one of the openers that night is Jim Young, our local southwestern songwriter, along with Shanna in a Dress.”
   Stark said the band will “bring you right along with them, and you can expect to have a great time, laugh a lot and hear a wide variety of excellent music.”
   Ticket prices are $5 for members; $10 for the public and free for kids 16 years old and younger.
   The Cowboy Church is at 15504 Bradshaw Road in Peyton. For more information, visit or call 719-338-5771. Follow them on Facebook as well.
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  4-Way Ranch litigation continues
  By Lindsey Harrison

   On April 11, 2018, Brian Matise, an attorney with Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine, P.C., filed two complaints on behalf of 30 residents of 4-Way Ranch Metropolitan District 1 against the district itself, the five board members and 4-Way Ranch Joint Venture LLC. The board members included Peter Martz, Robert Elliott, Deborah Elliott, E. Tracy Lee and Linda Johnson-Conne.
   According to the first complaint, District 1 was formed in September 2005 by the developer, 4-Way Ranch Joint Venture. The consolidated service plan the developer submitted to the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners — which was approved — called for the organization of District 1 and a neighboring district, 4-Way Ranch Metropolitan District 2. District 2 was intended to include and serve a different development than District 1, the complaint states.
   That complaint also asserts that actions taken by the board at the March 14, 2018, meeting were quasi-judicial in nature and could thus be reversed or overruled by the District Court of El Paso County. Those actions included the exclusion of portions of the undeveloped property within 4-Way Ranch from District 1, known as Waterbury; inclusion of the Waterbury property into 4-Way Ranch Metropolitan District 2; and conveyance of the services provided by District 1 to District 2.
   According to the May 2018 issue of “The New Falcon Herald,” when District 2 was created, it did not include the undeveloped 321-acre Waterbury property. Excluding the Waterbury property from District 1 and including it in District 2 would mean that associated revenue, such as tap fees or operation and maintenance taxes, would go to District 2 only; District 1 would not be able to financially survive the exclusion.
   The courts ruled the decision to exclude the Waterbury property was legislative in nature and it could not interfere with or change the board's decision to exclude the property, Matise said. Therefore, the exclusion decision made on March 14, 2018, remained in effect, excluding Waterbury from District 1 and including it in District 2.
   However, the second complaint stated the exclusion of the Waterbury property violated the service plan approved by the BOCC. Homeowners in District 1 wanted their arguments heard by the courts as to how that exclusion violated the service plan and the court ruled to set aside, or undo, the exclusion so that those arguments could be heard, Matise said.
   At the time the exclusion decision was made in March 2018, board members for District 1 were also board members for District 2. However, the three developer-director board members — Johnson-Conne, Robert Elliott and Deborah Elliott –- were recalled; and the two remaining homeowner/resident members were defeated in the general election May 8, 2018.
   The new board currently consists of Kevin Campbell, Kristen Andrews and Stewart Anderson as the developer-director members and David Learn and Andrew Westra as the homeowner/resident members.
   In December 2018, the new board held a hearing about the former board's decision to exclude the Waterbury property that the courts had set aside and took additional testimony and evidence into consideration, Matise said. Based on what was presented, the board ruled against the exclusion because it would leave District 1 without a tax base to support it, he said.
   Then, an appeal against that decision was filed.
   “We received an appeal of that ruling, which was sent to the (EPC) Board of County Commissioners,” Matise said. “A property owner who wants that exclusion to be approved wants the commissioners to consider allowing it.”
   Matise filed a response to the appeal in time for the Feb. 27 deadline.
   “It is in the county commissioners hands with how to proceed,” he said. “I suspect they will look at the appeal near the end of March.”
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  Understanding property taxes
  By Lindsey Harrison

   This is the second article in a series on growth and development in Falcon and nearby areas.
   That development in Falcon and the immediate adjacent areas has been steady for several years, showing no signs of slowing down, is inarguable. But property tax calculations are not as black and white.
   Steve Schleiker, El Paso County assessor, said his office often fields questions from residents about how their property taxes are determined and who makes that determination.
   Colorado is a “value in use” state, Schleiker said. “If, on Jan. 1, the property is being used as a single family residential property, we value it as such,” he said.
   Property taxes are determined based on the square footage of the property, once its use has been determined, Schleiker said. Residential property in Colorado is assessed or taxed at 7.2 percent, while vacant land, commercial property and business personal property are all assessed at 29 percent, in accordance with state law, he said.
   However, land that might appear vacant could be used for another purpose, changing its valuation and its assessment rate, Schleiker said.
   A vacant lot can also be taxed at a different rate if it has been slated as a subdivision, he said. Based on Colorado law, tax discounts are offered to developers who are planning to subdivide a large piece of property that is vacant. But it is not categorized as vacant so it is not taxed as such, Schleiker said.
   "Discounting of vacant land established the present worth of (the) vacant land that will likely be sold within one year," he said. "After new subdivisions are created (but not actually under construction), it is necessary to examine each subdivision to determine if it is subject to discounting."
   The need to assess agricultural property at a different rate than vacant, commercial or residential properties stems from the fact that farmers and ranchers can have hundreds of acres of property, Schleiker said. Using the typical assessment formula, which uses price per square foot, many of those ranchers and farmers would not be able to sustain their business because of taxes, he said.
   According to the assessor’s website, “Colorado has an Agricultural Land Classification designed to help legitimate farmers and ranchers continue agricultural operations on their land.” Therefore, properties used as legitimate farming and ranching operations can be classified as agricultural and will be taxed based on that classification, Schleiker said.
   Agricultural classification could be an attractive option if someone was looking to pay fewer taxes on their property, but it comes with some strings attached.
   “Property owners can be leasing their property for agricultural use, for grazing or (to grow) meadow grass,” he said. “If they have met the requirements to get that agricultural status, they get taxed that way. They have to prove that use through a lease or something similar that shows its use as an agricultural property, and then we go out and do a physical inspection.”
   Those physical inspections occur yearly to determine if a property still meets the requirements for which it has been categorized, he said. If, for instance, there is no sign of cattle grazing, no fencing, no cattle hay, no sign of agricultural use; the property loses its Agricultural Land Classification status, Schleiker said.
   Frequently, developers will enter into multi-year leases for grazing, which allows them to keep their property’s agricultural status and assessment rate, he said. “Cows will come out and chew everything on the land and the rancher will move the cows to another parcel to allow the other one (parcel) to regrow,” Schleiker said. “It is possible that cows have not been seen on that property for that reason.”
   According to a document prepared by the Colorado Assessors Association, Colorado Association of Tax Appraisers and Colorado Division of Property Taxation, Department of Local Affairs, the value of agricultural land is based on the earning or productive capacity of the land; and taxed according to that value.
   It is feasible for developers to purchase property categorized as agricultural and have it taxed as such until they are ready to begin development based on their initial plans, but they must maintain the Agricultural Land Classification requirements, Schleiker said.
   “About 50 to 60 percent of the time, when a property is transferred to a developer’s hands, we take it out of agricultural status,” Schleiker said. “Once the developer starts scraping (grading and preparing) the land, they lose that agricultural status.”
   Since the valuation of a property is not based on how it is zoned, there are a number of properties zoned for agricultural that are being assessed at the commercial rate of 29 percent because they are not being used for agricultural purposes, he said. Similarly, a vacant property may be zoned residential, but if it is not being used as such, it is taxed at the 29 percent vacant land rate, Schleiker said.
   Valuation of property is determined on Jan. 1 of each year, so if someone wants their property taxed at a different rate, they must prove the property meets the requirements for that categorization and then wait until the first day of the following year to realize that valuation change, Schleiker said.
   Notice of valuations must be mailed out by the assessor’s office by May 1, according to state statute, he said. For the current valuation, Schleiker said his office uses sales from a 24 month period, from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2018. “Those sales determine property values for the 2019 year, which affect the 2019 and 2020 property taxes,” he said.
   Countywide, Schleiker said single family residential home valuations have increased between 15 to 25 percent; vacant land valuations are up 15 to 20 percent; commercial land valuations are up 10 to 15 percent; and agricultural land valuation is going down because of an increase in the cost of agricultural products.
   The increases in valuations are due to the rise in property sales during the 24-month valuations study period. ”We (El Paso County) are the No. 1 market in the whole entire nation," Schleiker said.
   In the coming months, Schleiker said he plans to hold town hall meetings to help people better understand valuations. He also said the assessor’s office is willing to answer questions related to property valuation and property taxes, or residents can visit the county’s website at
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  Wolf-dog hybrids popular but short-lived as pets
  By Lindsey Harrison

   According to the Mission: Wolf website, there is an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 wolves and wolf-dog hybrids currently living in captivity in the United States.
   Michelle Smith, a wolf-dog owner and staff member at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center in Divide, Colorado, said owning a wolf-dog has become trendy, but there is much more to caring for a wolf-dog than most people realize.
   “Wolf-dogs have risen in popularity over the last couple of years, mostly because of different TV shows,” Smith said. “People get them and do not realize they are not just dogs. They think it is going to be a fairytale and it is not.”
   Smith, who has been with the CWWC for seven years, said the biggest misconception is that wolf-dogs make good pets. The wolf-dogs that people claim are good pets are frequently not wolf-dogs at all; they are often just a dog who looks like a wolf, she said. With a true wolf-dog, people are surprised by the behavior because it is not what they were expecting, Smith said.
   “Wolf-dogs have the same general behaviors as other dogs, but the intensity level is a lot higher,” she said. “They have no desire to please you, unlike dogs. They have extremely high prey drives. Neophobia (fear of new things) is very common in wolf-dogs no matter how much you try to socialize them. Most of the time, wolf-dogs who are adopted as puppies are surrendered (to a wolf sanctuary or similar organization) at 2 years old because their behavior changes. That is when they generally become neophobic.”
   According to an article posted on Colorado Public Radio’s website May 1, 2018, about 200,000 wolf-dogs are euthanized before they turn 3 years old because humans cannot take care of them.
   “My wolf-dog, Shaya, was surrendered by his original owners when he was 1 and a half years old,” Smith said. “Someone wanted to adopt him, and she only had him for three days before he got out, and she surrendered him to the (Colorado) Wolf and Wildlife Center.”
   When Smith adopted him, she said she had been working at the CWWC for about four and a half years. She said she wanted to know what percentage of wolf Shaya was, so she had his DNA tested and the results indicated he is 60 percent wolf, mixed with Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute and German Shepherd.
   According to the website, in general, a wolf-dog with between 1 and 49 percent wolf is considered a Low Content wolf-dog. Between 50 and 74 percent is Mid Content and 75 percent or higher is considered a High Content wolf-dog. “A High Content (wolf-dog) may have one to three dog traits but otherwise should be virtually indistinguishable from a pure wolf.”
   Smith said Shaya’s behavior can be problematic at times because he still has so many traits of a wolf. “It is hard to keep him from destroying stuff,” she said. “If I were to leave him unattended, he will find something to destroy. In the last two and a half years, he has destroyed about $10,000 worth of things; and that includes the dental bills for repairing his teeth afterwards.”
   As with other wolf-dogs, Shaya does not like riding in a car. He drools, defecates, urinates and vomits almost every time he is in the car; and has even broken out the rear window of her vehicle trying to get out, she said.
   Shaya is also “mouthy” and likes to explore things with his teeth, Smith said. He has strong jaws and can unintentionally bite too hard, even when he is trying to be gentle, she said. On their frequent hiking trips, Shaya likes to try to “hold hands” or grasp onto the hand or arm of anyone they might be hiking with that day, she said.
   “I got lucky with Shaya because he does not need a whole lot of exercise,” Smith said. “Most people who do not have a large containment area go on walks with their wolf-dog that are at least 5 to 7 miles, although 10 miles is recommended each day.”
   According to an article posted on the website on July 5, 2018, that need to roam is inherent in wolf-dogs because of their wolf DNA. They are also prone to digging since wolves in the wild are den builders, the article states. A common way for them to escape is digging beneath their enclosure.
   Smith said she built a new 6-foot chain-link fence, with a 3-foot portion at the top that angles inward toward the enclosure. Shaya can easily climb over a regular 5-or 6-foot fence and would likely break through a wooden one, Smith said.
   As for food, Smith said Shaya's diet can get expensive because, for mid-content and higher content wolf-dogs, they need a raw diet. "Shaya does have kibble, but it is high quality and costs about $60 for a 25-pound bag that we go through once per week," she said.
   According to the article posted on, "Domestication has made dogs relatively easy to house train. Wolves, on the other hand, possess a strong territorial instinct, and one of their inclinations is to draw boundaries around their food source by urinating and defecating."
   Shaya still struggles with urinating inside, Smith said. "I am good with taking him outside, but if he has got to go, he is going to go," she said."He tries to pee on my snake's cage all the time, and it is really just a marking issue.
   “So many people have them (wolf-dogs), and they are so irresponsible with them. I do not want them to be banned, but they need to go with the right people and that takes research, dedication and being prepared. Even if it does not work out like you wanted it to, you have to take responsibility."
   (Be sure to read Robin Widmar’s book review "American Wolf: A Story of Survival and Obsession in the American West.”
When Michelle Smith adopted Shaya, she wanted to know what percentage of wolf he was. The results of his DNA test showed he is 60 percent wolf, mixed with Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute and German Shepherd. Photo submitted
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  Building and real estate update
  By Lindsey Harrison

   Meridian Ranch
   The El Paso County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved inclusion of certain streets in the Meridian Ranch Filing No. 8 subdivision into the county road maintenance system. All improvements have been completed and inspected.
   The BOCC also approved a request by GTL Inc. for the final plat of 68 acres located at the northwest corner of the Eastonville Road and Stapleton Drive intersection. The final plat creates 209 single-family residential lots on property zoned planned unit development.
   Highway 24 – Peyton Project
   The commissioners unanimously approved a temporary construction easement agreement with the Colorado Department of Transportation, allowing CDOT to complete supporting roadway and ditch grading along Highway 24 in preparation for construction of passing lanes. In exchange for the easement, CDOT is providing a $4,400 fee to the county.
   Special use permit – Newcomb property
   The EPC Planning Commission unanimously approved a request by Janice Newcomb for a special use permit with special provisions to allow an extended family residential dwelling. The property is located on the northwest side of Preston Place, about 553 feet north of the location of Tracy Lane and Preston Place. Included within the Falcon/Peyton small area master plan, the property is zoned residential rural 5. EPC Code Enforcement notified the owner of code violations for inoperable vehicles and rubbish on the property. Those violations were corrected by Dec. 18, 2018, and compliance was achieved. The planning commission’s recommendation will be forwarded to the BOCC for action.
   Commercial stable – Hoffman property
   The planning commission unanimously approved a request by Chuckie’s Place, doing business as Reigning Hope and representing property owners Craig and Susanne Hoffman, for a commercial stable on property zoned RR-5 and located on the east side of Holmes Road, north of Vessey Road. The commission’s recommendation will be forwarded to the BOCC for action.
   D 49 Commercial Mobile Radio Service Facility
   The Planning Commission unanimously approved a request by Heidi GaNun, on behalf of El Paso County Colorado School District 49, for a variance of use for an existing pole-mounted commercial mobile radio service facility. The CMRS is located on a property zoned RR-5, north of Stapleton Drive, on the east side of Towner Avenue. The planning commission’s recommendation will be forwarded to the BOCC for action.
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  Runaway dogs a persistent problem
  By Lindsey Harrison

   The "escape artist" behavior of both wolf-dogs and certain breeds of regular dogs can cause problems and safety concerns not only for the owners but also for the neighbors.
   Debi Herriges, a resident of Latigo Trails in eastern El Paso County, said loose dogs are a common occurrence in her subdivision, which is meant to be an equestrian neighborhood, allowing residents to keep horse and ride them throughout the area.
   "Probably, every time we ride our horses, we run into dogs off leashes," she said. "I can be riding with my neighbor on the gravel roads out here and the next thing you know, a dog has jumped their fence and is chasing us. We should not have to worry about that when we are riding."
   Hannah Stockdale, the lead certified veterinary technician at Tender Care Veterinary Center in Falcon, said loose dogs are brought to them often (three or four each week).
   Differing viewpoints on whether the Latigo Trails neighborhood and other subdivisions in the Falcon area have ordinances against letting dogs run loose has caused plenty of upheaval on social media sites, Herriges said.
   But Jamie Norris, captain of animal law enforcement with the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, said the ordinances, while perhaps unclear, are what they must follow when it comes to law enforcement.
   "This county is odd because we only provide services to the designated animal control areas of the county," Norris said. "Falcon is not incorporated into that designated animal control area."
   The Pet Animal Control/Dog Licensing Rules and Regulations adopted by El Paso County have sections that do not apply to areas outside of the HSPPR designated animal control area, she said.
   Ultimately, Norris said the ordinances do not make it illegal for a dog to run loose in unincorporated portions of the county, including Falcon. However, if a citizen in those areas catches a stray animal and takes it to the HSPPR, staff will give it appropriate medical attention, research any tags or microchips and attempt to contact the owner, she said.
   "Owners have to pay for those treatments, and there is a cost associated with getting an animal back from the Humane Society," Norris said.
   The problem with the ordinances as they are written now is that they have not kept up with the growth in eastern El Paso County, Norris said. That area used to be rural, and people did not want to have limits on the number of dogs they could have or adhere to licensing requirements, but it is not rural anymore, Norris said.
   "It is going to have to come down to the citizens in that area going to the (EPC) Board of County Commissioners and pushing to have that area become part of our animal control areas," she said. "Of course, there is a cost associated with that."
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