Manitou Springs may be quirky, but it is civilized.
When Manitoids declare war, they announce their disdain on handmade cloth banners that hang from porches. They show up to meetings at City Hall, where they read letters (and sneer at their opponents).
If they're pushed, they may even take the matter to court.
So it has gone, as the, ah, disagreement, between the residents of Manitou's Grand Avenue and the representatives of the historic, AAA Four-Diamond-Award-winning Cliff House hotel drags on.
The upgrade argument
It all began months ago when word got out that the Cliff House's parent company, Texas-based Gal-Tex Hotel Corp., planned to expand its 55-room hotel by adding a secondary building on a neighboring property that borders Grand Avenue. Architect Doug Comstock says plans are to restore an older building (Wheeler House), and attach it to a swanky, new 79-room hotel. The property, called "Cliff House West," will feature a large ballroom, conference rooms, a natural-spring-water spa and a pool enclosed in a glass atrium.
Comstock says neighbors should appreciate the project. He says it's a vast improvement over a decaying Wheeler House surrounded by shabby, decades-old townhomes.
"We're replacing what is basically a run-down, undesirable-type property with a five-star hotel," he says.
Cliff House general manager Paul York is equally miffed, saying the hotel's owners expected a grateful Manitou to cheer when they heard of the expansion plans. (Independent publisher John Weiss, who owns business property on Park Avenue near the current Wheeler House, has provided some assistance to the Cliff House in an advisory role.)
But a number of Grand Avenue residents say the planned development is ugly. And it would block mountain views from some of the large, restored, historic homes that line the narrow street.
Some have fought the plan. So far, they're losing.
It's already received approval from the city's planning department and Historic Preservation Committee (though a recently uncovered property-line dispute will mean slight changes). Manitou City Council could make a final decision on the project as soon as Sept. 23.
Carrot and stick
But, maybe not.
Julie Wolfe and a few other inflamed Grand Avenue residents will be visiting City Council on Sept. 16. They have filed an appeal with Council, seeking to overturn the HPC's approval of the project because, they say, the Cliff House West does not meet the town's historic guidelines.
If Council agrees with the neighbors, the development could be stalled, changed or canceled. If Council decides to uphold the HPC's decision, neighbors could appeal that decision in circuit court, further delaying the project.
Wolfe, who happens to be an attorney, says she's not sure how far the neighbors will push, or whether they have any chance of victory.
"I just thought we owed it to ourselves to do the work," she says.
From her point of view, Manitou is being suckered with a carrot-and-stick approach. If the city approves the Cliff House, Manitou will collect more tax revenues. If it turns the project down, York has said, the Cliff House may close altogether because it hasn't turned a profit in years, a problem he blames on the hotel having too few rooms to attract business conferences.
Wolfe says the city should be less concerned with the survival of the Cliff House and more sensitive to homeowners, many of whom feel betrayed. She says she believed that if any development ever went in close to her home, it would be held to strict guidelines a key point for her when she bought her home and invested money to restore it.
And maybe she had reason to feel that way. In recent years, Manitou told Tom McGee he couldn't put houses on his 99 acres that stretch up Iron Mountain. Stephen Beisel got a "no" when he wanted to develop his 70 acres. Bruce Brian just wanted to put a personal home on his three acres, but Manitou killed that proposal in 2007, after over a decade of negotiations.
Manitou planning director Dan Folke, though, denies that the Cliff House received special treatment. He says that when projects get turned down, it's usually for practical reasons like lack of ground stability, or impossible utilities plans.
He thinks Cliff House West has made more than enough changes to comply with code, as well as to be considerate to the neighbors. Hotel representatives have been particularly mindful of Grand Avenue residents, he says, in lowering the heights of buildings that face the residential street. And the homeowners even stand to gain a little from the development: Gal-Tex is paying for utilities upgrades that should provide better water pressure on Grand, and allow for a working fire hydrant on the street.
"I think that they've exceeded the minimum requirements," he says.
If approved, Cliff House West would likely be finished two years from now.