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Streamside Rule Renewed 

Developers balk, enviros embrace stricter waterway protections

Supporters say it's the most important environmental measure before the Colorado Springs City Council this year. Critics -- mainly the local real-estate industry -- say it could mean more unnecessary regulation.

After being soundly rejected by the Planning Commission last year, a proposed ordinance designed to protect the city's creeks and streams is back on the agenda. City planners have reworked the ordinance to address concerns raised by the planning commissioners last time around, and the Voters Network, a local organization that advocates "smart growth," is lobbying for its passage. The ordinance would regulate new developments within 100 to 200 feet of most waterways.

"This is going to have significant impact," said the Network's Ann Oatman-Gardner. The ordinance, she said, would enhance the community's relationship to local streams, which in the past has been "less than stellar."

An estimated 4,000 property owners could be affected because they would be subject to the stricter regulations, said Gary Park, the project manager for the ordinance. The City currently does little to regulate streamside development, and the result in many places has been degraded waterways, he said.

Unlike similar regulations in many other cities, the ordinance wouldn't bar new development near streams but would require such developments to be compatible with the streams' features, Park said. The purpose is to preserve the visual and recreational value that streams provide, and to protect wildlife.

When the Planning Commission defeated a previous version of the ordinance on a 7-1 vote in March 2001, members expressed concern that the measure was too restrictive. The Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs also voiced concerns, advocating certain exemptions and asking that streams already protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, due to the presence of the endangered Preble's meadow jumping mouse, be excluded from the ordinance.

Planning staff responded by reducing the ordinance's total affected area by almost one-quarter. They also provided for some exemptions and removed Preble's mouse habitat from the ordinance, as the Housing and Building Association had suggested.

Still, the association continues to be skeptical, said its president, Tom Taylor. Streams are already subject to state and federal regulations aimed at protecting wetlands and preventing flooding, he said.

"It's just another layer of intervention," Taylor said of the ordinance. "How many layers of intervention do you need?"

Park, meanwhile, said state and federal regulations take a "blanket approach" and aren't heavily enforced at the local level. "This ordinance would give us better local protection of stream areas," he said.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the ordinance in June.

-- Terje Langeland

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