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Battle in Skyway 

A Skyway woman is taking steps to sue a new neighbor because of her day-care operation and the neighborhood association that is allowing the business to continue.

Roommates Elizabeth Shaw and Karen Sanchez, who moved into their Skyway home four years ago, believe the neighborhood covenants -- which dictate the rules of the neighborhood -- prohibit day-care operations or any other home-based business.

However, their neighbor, Fran Prudhomme, maintains that she was unaware that the covenants could restrict her day-care center, and that she has every right to operate the business.

The battle has embroiled the upscale neighborhood and sharply divided the neighborhood Skyway Association into pro-Prudhomme and anti-Prudhomme factions with homeowners debating whether the residential character of the neighborhood is in doubt.

"We looked all over town for a neighborhood where we'd be sure to have peace and quiet," said Shaw, who with Sanchez moved to Skyway from Pueblo in September 1997 with the intention to retire there. "We chose Skyway specifically because of the covenants prohibiting commercial usage."

Prudhomme and her husband bought their home, at 1016 Skyway Blvd. in the Skyway area of southwestern Colorado Springs, in March and she immediately set up the day-care center.

Sanchez said that one day in February, she noticed a couple with a realtor and it appeared they were about to purchase the home, and she walked next door to introduce herself.

According to Sanchez, the realtor mentioned in passing that the Prudhommes planned to open a day-care center at the house. But when Sanchez noted the residential-only limitation of the covenants, the realtor, Dan Weihmiller of Pikes Peak Realty, told Sanchez to take it up with the Skyway Association, not him.

The Skyway covenants specifically state that "no lot shall be used except for residential purposes."

Shaw and Sanchez subsequently contacted Skyway Association president Jeanne Matthews, who dispatched a member of the neighborhood association's Architectural Control Committee, Mac McIntyre, to the Prudhomme residence on April 18. McIntyre declined to comment on what recommendations he submitted.

Prudhomme insists that her April 18 encounter was the first time she learned of the neighborhood covenants, and it's here that the dispute takes some curious twists.

Wiehmiller, the seller's broker, acknowledged that Sanchez "expressed a concern" about the covenants to him in the presence of the Prudhommes.

"I can't say what the Prudhommes knew about the covenants," he said, "but I do know that they got a copy of the covenants along with the contract from the title company."

The Prudhomme's broker, Sarah Lynn Thomas, confirmed that a copy of the covenants were delivered to the Prudhommes prior to closing. She personally told them of the covenants prior to closing "while we all sat around a table," she said.

The application packet for day-care licensing -- sent to all applicants by the local licensing agent, Child Care Connections -- requires that prospective day-care operators "must check the covenants governing the housing area that you live in to see if house child care is allowed in that area."

However, Prudhomme maintains she was unaware of the restrictive covenants until McIntyre contacted her on April 18, by which time her day-care center had been operating for a month.

A week later, Prudhomme petitioned the Skyway Association board for a variance to allow her day care center.

At that meeting, board president Matthews and vice president Margaret Brettshneider argued for enforcement of the covenants, but it was decided that the matter should be decided by the three-member Architectural Review Committee.

Ed Cleveland, a local attorney and president of that committee, subsequently ruled on May 10 that the term "residential purposes" is unclear and concluded that "it is reasonable to say that Mrs. Prudhomme could run her day-care center without a variance, and it is just as reasonable to say that the covenants prohibit such usage."

So, the committee decided to neither approve nor disapprove Prudhomme's variance request.

"I still don't see any reason why I can't do this," said Prudhomme. "I'm doing this to meet the needs of my 5-year-old son and so that we can afford to live in this neighborhood. If my neighbors want seclusion and perfect peace and quiet they should have purchased 10 acres in Florissant and built a cabin there."

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