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Plan to demo two homes to make way for apartments is sign of the times 

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click to enlarge Two historic homes downtown would have to be leveled to make way for a 17-unit apartment complex. - HEIDI BEEDLE
  • Heidi Beedle
  • Two historic homes downtown would have to be leveled to make way for a 17-unit apartment complex.
On July 16, Erin Finley came home from work to find a green flyer placed in her doorjamb. It was a copy of the public notice sent to all nearby homeowners regarding a public meeting for a proposed development. As a renter, Finley did not receive a notice in the mail.

The proposed site of the development, dubbed “Mieritz Apartments” after retired real estate broker and current landlord Patrick Mieritz, on the corner of East Boulder Street and Wahsatch Avenue, included the area currently occupied by the home Finley had been renting for the last eight years.

“I’ve put thousands into this yard and garden,” she says. “I love this house and this neighborhood and I don’t want to lose my home.”

While most of the homes in Finley’s neighborhood, just north of downtown, were built in the 1800s, they aren’t protected from demolition by a historic district. And while homeowners citywide can rest easy knowing that the city rarely employs eminent domain to seize private property, renters enjoy no such security.

Monica Hobbs, president of the newly formed Near North End Neighborhood Association, says the situation on Finley’s block is troubling. “We want to preserve the neighborhood as best we can,” she says. “It is unfortunate there is no historic overlay [for those structures], but it is an ongoing challenge of ‘do we repurpose them or just tear them down?’”

And that headache isn’t likely to be confined to one project — demolition and new structures are expected to become more commonplace, especially in and near downtown. Urban Planning Manager Ryan Tefertiller says “the city will be supporting these in-fill development projects in the future and other developments that align with the Experience Downtown Master Plan.”

New development projects can be controversial, both for their ability to make housing more affordable or expensive and for their potential to displace existing residents. The acrimony generated by the proposed affordable housing development in Broadmoor Bluffs and the outrage over the mass evictions at Emerald Towers apartments, south of downtown, this year are prime examples of the difficulties involved.

In the last decade, Colorado has seen steady population growth, adding approximately 77,000 residents in the last year alone. The population pressure has been felt most acutely in Denver, where concerns about rising rent prices and gentrification dominate the local discussion.

But in 2017, El Paso County was the fastest-growing county in Colorado.

On July 19, Mieritz, Tefertiller, Steve Posey with the Colorado Springs Community Development Division, John Olson with Altitude Land Consultants, and Mark Tremmel with the Tremmel Design Group, put their proposal for Mieritz Apartments in front of community members at a meeting in the Harvest Alliance Church on North Weber Street, across from the proposed development.

The proposal calls for a new, 17-unit apartment complex and a zone change to allow such a structure. While the development would include four “affordable housing units” the majority of the apartments would be priced for whatever the market will bear, based on construction and development costs. Construction would only involve the demolition of two of the homes on the lot.

Olson claims the rezoning is needed in order to move toward “less suburban” codes for this building project. Tefertiller clarified that the new zoning would affect things like setbacks from the sidewalk, maximum building heights, and density limits that are more rigorous under the current zoning.

Dick Timberlake, a longtime property owner in the neighborhood, and Kurt Trempert, pastor of Harvest Alliance, are both worried about the parking situation. Students at nearby Palmer High School frequently monopolize the parking on Cheyenne Avenue, which causes plenty of headaches for the current residents.

Tricia Hill, one of the residents impacted by the proposed development, noted, “This is a very short block for street parking for the few homes there now. None of the homes have garages, only street parking. Then, when school is in session, the Palmer High School students fill the complete block on both sides of the street.

“With the proposal only offering as few as three off-street parking stalls for a 17-unit building, this area will end up looking like an ugly airport parking lot and forcing current home residents across the street and the surrounding area to fight for a parking spot in front of their own home!”

Tefertiller notes that building codes currently require 1.5 units of parking for every apartment unit and that the developers would probably have to apply for a variance as the project only calls for adding up to five additional parking spots.

In addition to concerns over parking, classist concerns over the “types of renters” were addressed as Mieritz plans to include four affordable housing units. Because the project is so early in the development process, specific answers to questions about pricing and rents at the apartments were unavailable. Olson noted that the final rent prices would “be dependent on the cost of construction,” but Posey added that affordable housing meant “spending no more than 30 percent of your monthly income on housing, to include utilities.”

Posey explained that during the development and construction process, “the Community Development Division uses [U.S. Housing and Urban Development] funds to provide a small percentage of the financing for affordable housing projects — typically somewhere between 3 and 5 percent on developments like this one. HUD funds partially offset the overall cost of development which allows the rents to be lower and more affordable for low- to moderate-income tenants.”

The development team is also committed to ensuring any new construction matches the character of the neighborhood. Olson mentioned that they were, at this point, committed to keeping the historic wall along Boulder Street intact and preliminary sketches of the proposed complex featured a faux-Victorian aesthetic.

After the meeting, Finley, who was relieved that her home wasn’t marked for demolition, noted that “they seem to be doing a good job melding into the community and not making it awful.”

Unfortunately for Hill, one of Finley’s neighbors, she is one of the two residents who will have to find a new home. “My family and I have been renting the house for 51/2 years and we just love it. We also love our neighbors. The homes on this half-acre site are a nostalgic part of downtown Colorado Springs with their Victorian style and beautiful rock walls. I’m shocked right now. I mean I’m glad it’s just the two of us, but I don’t know whether to be jealous or just… shocked.”

Tefertiller was very careful to point out that it was early in the process and that a project like this would require at least three separate applications that would ultimately have to be approved by City Council. This would give impacted residents “six months to a year, but the property owner can always get a demolition permit earlier.”

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