By Regan Foster

Where biblical scholars once studied, new families are expected to soon lay down roots.

The Colorado Springs City Council gave preliminary approval on Jan. 14 to a housing plan that will reform the former Nazarene Bible College into a 427-unit community. Dubbed Chapel Heights, the Challenger Homes project is slated to include 190 single-family detached houses, 132 single-family attached (duplex) units and 105 lots for three- and four-unit properties.

It is expected to include a mix of owner-occupied and rental cottages, Challenger Homes Vice President for Community Development Jim Byers told council. Byers and Jim Houk, president of consulting land use planner Thomas + Thomas, made the case for the proposal during a public hearing that lasted more than two hours.

This has been a struggling corridor,” Houk told the board. “We think with some new products, some new housing, we’ll give a lot of new options … that will bring in more people and help to generate more business in there. There are definitely some new [opportunities] that this new shot of energy and some new folks will bring to the corridor.”

Before it could be approved, however, the property had receive zone change approval from council from special use to housing-compatible planned unit development.

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The hang up for council came from the fact that the rolling 42.04-acre campus at 1111 Academy Park Loop in southeast Colorado Springs is located in the heart of one of the neighborhood’s two federally designated Opportunity Zones. Challenger Homes announced when it introduced the project to the community last October that it would not take advantage of Opportunity Zone funding, which allows outside investors to back an approved redevelopment project by investing capital gains and deferring tax payments for up to 10 years.

Byers told council that his company was in negotiations with Nazarene Bible College to buy the land before the Opportunity Zone boundaries were established in 2018. The funding model doesn’t make sense for a homebuilder, he said, because they intend to sell the homes well before the 10-year cap on the investors.

He added it wasn’t until 2019 that his company even became aware the property was inside the zone.

By that point, we were pretty far down the road,” he said. “When we as Challenger Homes, went under contract on this property, … we started developing our vision for how this thing can work. We spent a huge amount of time and energy in the due-diligence phase. This is a lot of work, obviously.

We … understood that this is an opportunity and investment mechanism that has a 10 year window or so on it and it is intended for people who are going to hold property for 10 years. We are homebuilders: We build homes, we sell them. We do not hold on to them for 10 years.”

Nazarene built its first structures in 1967. College President Harold Graves said the institution has moved to a digital format and vacated the campus last August.

The Challenger plan includes retrofitting the existing chapel into a multi-use community center that will be open to not just residents but to the surrounding neighborhood, and keeping the iconic bell tower that is visible from Fountain Boulevard.

Council members gave their tentative blessing to the project via a 6-1 vote. Councilor Bill Murray cast the lone dissenting vote, while Councilor Yolanda Avila and President Richard Skorman abstained, citing prior engagement with the project. Council will have the chance to give its final approval via a second reading on Jan. 28.

If everything goes according to plan and the board gives its blessing, Byer told the Southeast Express he plans to begin demolition on five of the six buildings — which he said are not candidates for renovations — in February.

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