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Little garage kicks up big storm on Westside 

A proposal by the vice chairman of the Colorado Springs Planning Commission to subdivide a small, Westside lot has kicked up a big controversy among neighbors who complain the plan -- if upheld on appeal -- could lead to further division of single-family lots into plats for two or more families.

The nondescript and somewhat rundown structure is focusing debate on whether or not residential properties with secondary cottages or garages should be divided to make room for more types of affordable housing.

Planning Commission Vice Chair Steve Shuttleworth said he wants to divide property he co-owns on 2303 West Cucharras so that he can fix up and convert the garage on the back of the lot for single family use.

"We felt it made sense to provide two inexpensive homes, and for lack of a better term, some affordable housing, [by breaking up the property]," Shuttleworth said. "I think it's going to make a nice bungalow in the middle of the block."

Shuttleworth's plan has already been approved by the planning commission's hearing officer, local land-use consultant Les Gruen. But the move is strongly opposed by more than a dozen neighbors, who have signed a petition against Shuttleworth's plan which requires several variances due to the size and shape of the newly created lots.

In short, the neighbors say the creation of another dwelling on the block will aggravate already tight parking, and set a precedent that would allow speculators around the city to begin chopping up single-family lots in two.

"Now we'll see a whole trend of splitting up of lots," said neighbor Rich Duquet, who is leading the charge against the plan and has appealed Gruen's decision to City Council.

The appeal could lead to tricky situation for Shuttleworth, who would have to recuse himself from voting if Council refers the matter to the Planning Commission for a vote.

Because city planning staffer Angela White originally recommended that the application be denied -- because she said it did not meet any of the three criteria that allow for properties to be granted variances -- Duquet said Shuttleworth may be getting preferential treatment.

Shuttleworth labeled that assertion a "cheap shot," adding that he has as much of a right to develop property as anyone else. For his part, Gruen also thinks Shuttleworth's position on the commission was not a factor in his decision.

The property in question, Gruen noted, was originally platted as a "double lot" -- meaning the home and garage were built on land platted for two homes.

"So all they're basically doing is just reconfiguring the property line from north-south, to east-west," Gruen said. Because the lot is on the corner of the block, he added, the property is subject to the kind of "extraordinary" conditions that zoning codes say allow for variances.

The property is also zoned R-2, Gruen noted, which means land owners already are allowed to accommodate two families. Meanwhile, both the new lots created by the move are roughly the same size as several other lots on the block, he said.

But Duquet argued that just because the home and garage were built on two lots doesn't mean the developer should get variances on setbacks and lot sizes. He disputed the idea that a corner lot qualified as an "extraordinary condition" as described in zoning codes.

"How is a corner lot extraordinary?" Duquet asked, adding that affordable housing should not be used as a lever to undo zoning. "Every block has four corner lots."

Given the area's R-2 zoning, meanwhile, critics note there's nothing stopping Shuttleworth from now developing both small lots into lots for two families.

In response, Shuttleworth said he's tentatively agreed to put deed restrictions on both lots that would keep them as single-family residences. But the planning commissioner said he may drop that offer if opposition persists and delays continue.

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