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Decision on Woodmen Hills service plan delayed

On Oct. 18, the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners held a hearing on the amended Woodmen Hills Service Plan. By a vote of 4-0, the BOCC decided to again delay any decision about the plan until Dec. 15.The continuance was suggested by county attorney William Louis, who brought a new problem to the BOCCís attention: water draining from the north side of Highway 24 that has damaged private property to the south.Louis asked the board to review a series of aerial photographs taken from 1997 (when there was little development north of Highway 24 and minor drainage to the south of that highway) to a picture taken in 2009 showing much more development and what Louis called a ìvivid and shocking illustration of a major drainage problem in the Falcon area.îHe also showed pictures taken as he walked up the canyon, which was formed by water flowing from Woodmen Hills’ detention pond No. 4. The pictures show that water erosion has exposed utility lines along Highway 24 and endangered the bridge that spans the drainage area.Louis said he is not pointing fingers at any particular development.Itís a drainage basin problem, and the problem has got to be fixed upstream. Pond No. 4 is the last pond in the line, so the immediate plan is to do something with that pond. Woodmen Hills Metropolitan District is cooperating, Louis said.The Woodmen Hills amended service plan the BOCC is considering for approval contains provisions for addressing drainage problems north of Highway 24 but does not address the damage to the south.Commissioner Amy Lathen said the drainage problem has been a big issue since she was appointed to the board in 2008.The water isnít coming just from the businesses north of Highway 24. It flows 24/7 now, she said.Despite the request for a continuance, the BOCC still heard testimony about the amended service plan.Craig Dossey, a project manager for the countyís development services department, said notices were sent to all Woodmen Hills households. He received 28 favorable responses, 139 unfavorable responses and three ìno opinionî responses.The BOCC then heard testimony from Evan Ela, the districtís attorney.ìAll weíre trying to establish in the service plan is the full power that any Title 32 special district has,î Ela said.According to Title 32, the district board has the power to

  • match fees for the cost of service
  • set and collect tap fees
  • propose to district voters a mill levy, capped at 50 percent for capital needs and 10 percent for operational needs, to pay for general obligation bonds, with a debt limit increased from $16 million to $53 million
  • address the districtís internal drainage problems
  • hold an election in May 2012 in which voters in filings 1 through 10 will decide if they want covenant enforcement
  • provide services such as mosquito control and covenant enforcement (if approved by voters)
The amended service plan anticipates the need to build a new wastewater treatment plant in the next six years and as many as two new recreation centers in the next 20 years. Construction would be financed by general obligation bonds (backed by a voter-approved mill levy) or revenue bonds (backed by service fees).Public commentThe board heard from residents on both sides of the fence.Two Woodmen Hills residents spoke in favor of the amended plan.ìI signed a set of covenants when I moved there, so Iíve already voted,î said Connie Kalbach.Ralph Laurie said the covenants are reasonable, and he supports their enforcement. ìI have to go to war against my neighbors to protect the value of my property,î Laurie said.Fourteen residents spoke against covenant enforcement and the increased indebtedness the amended service plan would allow.Lisa Clayton said the covenant provision in her filing that prevents privacy fencing is unreasonable, especially when privacy fencing would protect children from being snatched or attacked by dogs.ìThe metro district has shown themselves to be dishonest,î Clayton said. ìTheyíre not interested in what the community wants.îWilliam Chin said he didnít see his covenants until closing. He had a choice: lose his earnest money or accept the covenants. ìWe have a very corrupt district,î Chin said, adding that the district lost a check he delivered in person and then imposed a late-fee penalty. Cash payments are not posted the same day they are made, and the district changes rules and penalties without public notice, he said.Richard Diffenderfer said he, too, didnít see his 30-plus page covenants until closing.He received his first violation notice three days after moving in for covering a window with a blanket until his curtains arrived.ìThe current board has wasted our money in taking covenant matters to court, not once, but twice, and have lost,î Diffenderfer said. Ö ìThey spent money on covenant enforcement for filings 1 through 10 ñ money that was collected for water, sewer and recreation. The district board has demonstrated it cannot be trusted to act responsibly and in the interest of the residents.îPat Reedy said she received a notice when she put up a tent in her back yard to seal its seams. The legal way to put up a tent is to get a $100 design review permit, she said. She was also told a birdhouse permit would be $25.After paying the $100 design review fee for installing a greenhouse, she was told she couldnít put it in because it didnít have an asphalt roof. Eventually, her greenhouse was installed but only after getting signatures from her neighbors.Reedy said the fee for the recreation center has gone from $30 a month to $50, and she and other Woodmen Hills residents canít opt out.ìPeople out there are hurting and with unemployment going up this isnít a good time to make things more uncomfortable by raising fees,î Reedy said. The existing recreation centers arenít overcrowded. We donít need another recreation center.îConnie Martin said she wanted to put up a trellis for her roses and was told she couldnít because itís a fence.Chris Wright said he was against increasing the debt limit from $16 million to $53 million. ìThe fact that the district is already only paying interest on debt shows itís not financially stable at the moment to even take care of its debts,î Wright said. ìWhy do we want to move that forward even further?îWright said heís concerned the district plans to take over control of Falcon Hills and Meridian Ranch.ìIf this district gets a hold of all three of those neighborhoods, they will be able to enforce the strategic planning of this entire region,î Wright said. … ìThey will be able to dictate through that board everything that happens out there economically. This is not local community control. Itís business control, and, as a homeowner, itís frustrating to see it.îLee Reedy said the amended service plan appears to authorize the district board to spend whatever it wants based on revenue projections.ìThe use of fees has become a euphemism for a hidden tax residents cannot vote on but are still required to pay,î he said.As for covenants, Reedy quoted from Colorado Court of Appeals case 09-CA1987, Warne versus Woodmen Hills:ìEnforcement authority ëwould belong only to those who own property in the development.íîBased on that decision, neither the planning commission nor the BOCC has standing to approve or grant the express authority of covenant enforcement, he said.Chuck Warne, the Woodmen Hills resident, who twice sued the district over covenant enforcement ñ and won both times, said that 66 or 75 percent (depending on the filingís covenants) of homeowners in each filing have to agree to modify their covenants to allow the district to enforce their covenants.Ela said the election to decide covenant enforcement would be conducted according to Colorado election law, which will allow all registered voters to vote on covenant enforcement.ìI know for a fact there are multiple lawsuits already drawn up,î Warne said. ìIf this goes through, itís going to embroil the metro district in yet more litigation and more cost. We donít enjoy suing ourselves, but at the same time, people have decided theyíre tired of getting their rights trampled on.îAttorney Lenard Rioth, hired by Woodmen Hills to provide covenant advice, said the BOCC had been misinformed on many issues.Rioth said the covenants already give the district authority to enforce covenants, so they donít have to be modified. He also said he has reviewed the covenants and covenant violations, and found them reasonable.ìFor people to move into covenant-protected communities and then say we donít think itís common sense that we canít have tents or 10 dogs or whatever I find that repugnant to the whole concept of covenants,î Rioth said.However, Lathen had other thoughts.ìWhen I look at something like no tents unless a design review committee takes a look at it, I donít believe thatís reasonable at all. Ö Iím going to be honest with you, those examples are ridiculous,î Lathen said.She suggested that continuing the decision on the amended service plan would give Woodmen Hills residents in filings 1 through 10 time to modify their covenants to make them reasonable.Ela said the district would welcome attempts by homeowners to modify their covenants at any time, but they would have to meet the percentage requirements specified by each covenant document, and they should record the changes against each property.The BOCC will hear the issue Dec. 15 at the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department at 2880 International Circle in Colorado Springs.

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