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BF preservation group calls for resident support

A Black Forest-based nonprofit group is calling for community support to contest alleged violations of the Black Forest Preservation Plan.The group, Friends of the Black Forest Preservation Plan, mailed a letter en masse May 11 to Black Forest residents warning of new county-approved developments they claimed are threatening Black Forest.According to the letter, ìThe crush of development moving north toward the forest, county official decisions granting higher densities for developments, granting of special use permits and increasing demands on water are threatening the rural, residential way of life that we value so much in our beautiful Black Forest.îThe letter cites alleged violations that include the approval of a request for additional lots ìover the number permitted under the 5-acre-per-lot rule in the Preservation Planî at Cathedral Pines, an 810-acre luxury home community development located between Shoup and Hodgen roads; approval for 375 lots on a 2,400-acre parcel with a 1,000-acre conservation easement, violating ìrules pertaining to conservation easementsî at The Sanctuary in the Pines; and approval of the Minibelly Greenhouse special use permit, allegedly violating several special use permit requirements by allowing a 62,000-square-foot commercial greenhouse in a residential neighborhood.The group reached out to Black Forest residents for their support.ìThe only way to push back against these violations is to unite into a large, unified body of Black Forest residents to bring pressure on our elected officials to follow the Preservation Plan and County Land Development Code,î the letter stated.But El Paso County officials say there is a big difference between the countyís regular zoning standards and master and small area plans, like the Preservation Plan.Craig Dossey, executive director of the El Paso County Planning and Community Development department, said the Preservation Plan is ìone of several of the countyís master plan.îìPursuant to state statute … a county’s master plan and the elements thereof are advisory and intended to guide land development decisions,î Dossey said. ìThey are not binding documents that control or limit the board’s authority to review and act upon individual land development applications.îThe Preservation Plan, approved by the El Paso County Planning Commission in 1974 and revised in 1987, states that it is ìan advisory rather than a regulatory planning tool.î This is contrasted against ìthe regulatory nature of zoning,î which establishes ìobjective standards for development such as allowed uses, minimum building setbacks, maximum building heights, (and) maximum lot coverage,î Dossey said.The advisory plans and regulatory zoning laws interact when rezoning applications that request modifications to zoning of specific properties or groups of properties are submitted for review. The county reviews the criteria for approval of rezoning per the 2016 Land Development Code. One of the criteria is general conformance with the county master plan; the criteria is ìgeneral conformance,î as opposed to ìstrict complianceî with the master plan,î Dossey said.Terry Stokka, chairman of the Black Forest Land Use Committee, a 25-person group that evaluates development plans against the Preservation Plan, said the Land Use Committee and the FBFPP donít agree with that assessment.ìThere are very specific (guidelines) in the Preservation Plan, and they donít sound very advisory to me,î Stokka said. ìThey sound pretty directive.îHe referenced the new Sterling Ranch development off Stapleton Road in Colorado Springs as one of several projects where the density violates the Preservation Plan, with regard to its 5-acre-per-lot rule.ìSterling Ranch submitted a master plan for 5,000 homes on 1,400 acres east of Vollmer Road and south of Arroya Lane. The basic master plan was already approved, even though we felt it was too dense,î Stokka said.The proposed density will be five to six homes per acre on the majority of the development.Sterling Ranch is located within the area identified by the Preservation Plan as the Southern Transitional Area.ìSterling Ranch is located within two policy plans: Black Forest and Falcon/Peyton, both of which are advisory, rather than regulatory, in nature,î Dossey said. ìThe Falcon/Peyton Plan Ö specifically identifies Sterling Ranch in the land use recommendations map Ö as being proposed for urban densities.îStokka said residential densities located inside the Southern Transitional Area ìshould be strictly held to an overall average of one dwelling unit per 5 acres (and) property owners in nonconforming subdivisions should be encouraged to consolidate lots in order to meet or approach zoning standards.îBut Dossey said†if a major parkway or expressway is constructed along the Stapleton Alignment (the alignment of the future extension of the†road) or a similar one,†the Preservation Plan allows for office development, light industrial development and multi-family projects that maintain the open†character of the area.ìGiven that language and the fact that the Stapleton extension is being proposed for construction, the overall land use intensity for the development will be substantially reduced from what was anticipated in the Black Forest Plan (i.e., industrial, commercial and multi-family being more intense than single family residential).†The Sterling Ranch Plan also includes preservation of open space, where development under the 5-acre-per-lot density of the Black Forest Plan would likely result in sprawling residential lots without useable open space,î Dossey said.Stokka said the support of local residents and the growth of the FBFPP provides the Black Forest Land Use Committee with ìstrength in numbersî when presenting their case to the county, and they must take their cases ìone step at a time.îìThe Friends,î as it is colloquially known, grew from 850 members to 1,400 as a result of their recent mailing, and is comprised of concerned Black Forest residents from ìall walks of life,î Stokka said.ìThe bottom line is we all support the Preservation Plan and responsible development. I want to emphasize that we are not against development. We want responsible development we can be proud of,î Stokka said. ìThe county tends to give too much preference to new land uses than to those who are already here and have rights, too.îThe Friendsí letter also alleged that the Preservation Plan has been argued as ìout of dateî by developers and county officials.ìWe get the accusation that it is out of date because it goes back such a long time,î Stokka said. ìWe donít see the need to revise the plan because its basic principles remain the same. Our concern is that if it is revised, it will be watered down,î or that rules and guidelines would be loosened or removed altogether.The letter stated a lack of funds and lack of interest from the county has delayed the planís revision; Stokka said he expects a county-contracted firm would consult with residents before revising the plan.But Dossey said the Preservation Plan is taken into account when development plans are reviewed by the county.ìI can tell you with great certainty that every zoning application that is processed in the county that is tied to a property located within a small area plan (like the Black Forest Preservation Plan) is thoroughly reviewed by the planning and community development department under the goals and policies of the respective plan, as evidenced by the staff report write-up presented to the planning commission and board of county commissioners for the public hearings on each application,î Dossey said.Still, members of the Friends are concerned about dense development, which carries lofty consequences, including extreme water use and aesthetics, Stokka said.Wells supply water to the Black Forest; Stokka said future developments could place an added strain on already scarce water resources.ìItís understood that you donít supply large developments with well water because itís just unsustainable,î he said.ìDense development that suddenly jumps from the forest is not good planning. It makes an ugly little town in the middle of 5-acre lots. Itís not fair to those who purchased the 5-acre lots with the understanding that all of their neighbors would also be on 5-acre lots. They have rights and expectations, too.î

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