For 17 years, Mike Luoma has enjoyed a spectacular view from his townhome in a neighborhood called Fairways at Springs Ranch.
The neighborhood gets its name from the Springs Ranch Golf Course. Luoma’s backyard abuts the course, and he can gaze across the fairway to Pikes Peak.
He won’t be able to do that much longer.
The course’s owner has signed a contract to sell the golf course to Classic Homes, which plans to develop 600 or more single-family homes, townhomes and apartments on the property.
Colorado Springs City Council on April 28 approved a zoning change that will allow Classic Homes to develop the golf course and accepted a conceptual plan for what will be known as Greenways at Sand Creek.
The property spans 194 acres on both sides of the creek, running east of Tutt Boulevard from just south of Coleman Park across North Carefree Circle to just below South Carefree Circle.
Luoma expects his view will be blocked by homes built directly behind his townhome.
“My neighbors and I are concerned that they’re going to have to build up the dirt to the west of us to get access, then they’re going to put a 25-foot-tall house on top of that,” he said.
In some parts of the project, there is buffer space between neighbors’ backyards and the proposed development — a concession negotiated with Classic by a consortium of homeowners associations — but that’s not the case with Luoma’s townhome.
“It’s about 30 feet from my back patio to their fence,” he said. “Some of my neighbors have one-third of that.”
He and his neighbors are concerned about potential flooding and the additional traffic the project will generate.
The project is unique in several ways. It has been the focus of a year of negotiations between the developer and the residents whose homes surround the golf course, and a great deal of public input.
One of the largest infill projects proposed since the adoption of Plan COS, the redevelopment of the golf course embodies several key development values, including adaptive reuse of a property, provision of various housing types and enhancement of unique places such as Sand Creek.
For Luoma and his neighbors, though, the price they’ll pay is that they no longer will be able to enjoy the peace and quiet and open space they have today.
The Springs Ranch area was annexed into the city in 1984 and was largely developed by BRE/Springs Ranch LLC. The city requires any developer to dedicate a certain amount of land within the development for parks and open space, based on the number of residents, or pay fees in lieu of that land.
For Springs Ranch, much of that requirement was satisfied by the golf course, and many people who bought homes adjacent to the course assumed it would remain as their open space.
It’s not uncommon for developers to amend an implemented master plan, city Planning Director Pete Wysocki told the Business Journal in July during an interview for a previous story on the golf course redevelopment.
“We sometimes do see changes in previously approved master plans where the community is developing over a number of years and conditions change … either to relocate some residential density or commercial sites, or reconfigure previously master-planned park areas,” Wysocki said.
On Oct. 12, 1999, city council approved a resolution granting parkland credit of 66.5 acres for the then-210-acre golf course. The credit was intended to compensate for a deficit in the required parkland.
The agreement between the city, Springs Ranch Golf Course owner Tom Tauche and BRE/Springs Ranch stipulated that the city would recoup fees in lieu of parkland if the course were closed to the public.
Amendments to the agreement were negotiated in 2011, 2016 and 2018 that allowed parts of the course to be used for other purposes, including parkland.
About 2½ years ago, Tauche had approached Classic Homes CEO Doug Stimple through a mutual friend and said the golf course was failing, “and he didn’t know what to do,” Stimple said.
With Classic eyeing the property, the 2018 amendment clarified that the original agreement “permits the termination of the use of the Property as a golf course in the future if the City is reimbursed for the park credits previously obtained.”
Part of the price Classic will pay when it finalizes its purchase of the golf course is $4.1 million in fees in lieu of parkland to satisfy the credits.
RESIDENTS MARSHAL FORCES
When the residents learned that Tauche planned to sell the golf course to Classic Homes, they formed a coalition called Save Springs Ranch, a consortium of homeowners associations that represented the neighborhoods surrounding the golf course.
Lou Morales, a Springs Ranch resident for 22 years, headed the organization.
In an April 24, 2019, letter to Mayor John Suthers, the residents contended that rezoning the golf course from A-Agricultural to R-Residential would be “a breach of the original agreement between the City and Springs Ranch which will negatively affect the public health, safety, welfare and aesthetics of the existing neighborhood and Colorado Springs as a whole.”
They asked that the city preserve some of the open space they had enjoyed for years.
“We’re not against development; what we are against is unbridled development,” Morales said.
Many residents were concerned about the proximity of the new developments to their homes, loss of views and open space, and the impacts on wildlife along Sand Creek.
Over the following year, Morales, as spokesman for Save Springs Ranch, negotiated some changes in the conceptual plan for the development with Classic Homes.
On Feb. 20, 2020, the Colorado Springs Planning Commission approved the conceptual plan and the zoning change for the 170 remaining acres of the golf course.
A second zoning change facilitated the swap of a 23.5-acre, city-owned parcel — the site of the Tutt Sports Complex — for a tract of equal size in the northernmost part of the project adjacent to Coleman Park.
Multifamily buildings are planned on the sports complex parcel, while the northern tract will become part of Coleman Park, considered a better site for the sports complex.
CLASSIC MAKES CHANGES
The zoning changes, land swap and conceptual plan came before council for approval on April 28.
Stimple told council members that the public engagement process connected with the process “was one of the most robust we’ve ever conducted” and that the conceptual plan, which included lot and street configurations, was unprecedented in its level of detail.
“We notified 3,200 households to tell them we were under contract,” he said. Other outreach efforts included an email list through which residents were updated.
Two open houses were held in May 2019, at which residents were invited to submit comment cards.
“We took that input and we took it serious,” Stimple said. “We made substantial material modifications to our plan.”
At two follow-up meetings in June, Classic shared updates to the plan.
One frequently heard comment was a request for Classic to protect residents’ views.
While that’s not a legal right in Colorado, Stimple said, “we voluntarily ranch-restricted” 127 proposed single-family homes north of North Carefree Circle, limiting them to 25 feet in height.
Classic also added a 55-foot open space buffer above existing townhomes and condos at the edge of the north part of the development; promised to install traffic calming features to divert traffic that might cut through The Island, a neighborhood in the north part of the project; and agreed to reduce 65 houses proposed on the east side of the property to 42 ranch-restricted homes.
Some planned homes that faced the neighborhood to the east, looking into existing homes’ backyards, were reoriented so their side yards now face the neighbors’ rear yards.
Classic also connected a new proposed neighborhood park with the Sand Creek regional trail system and removed homes that were going to be developed along the creek. When work is finished, trails on both sides of the creek will tie into the existing neighborhoods.
The land swap will enable the city parks department to provide a better entrance to Coleman Park and to develop new sports facilities to replace the Tutt Sports Complex in a more suitable location, Parks Department Design and Development Manager Britt Haley said.
The Parks Department has promised to use the $4.1 million the city will receive in parkland fees for improvements to the expanded Coleman Park, Haley said.
Morales said after the meeting that the homeowners associations got close to 90 percent of what they wanted.
“I don’t feel it was necessarily a win because we have so many disparate opinions,” he said. “We have mixed emotions. I believe we did the best for our residents and found the best alternative for losing the golf course.
“People were led to believe that they would have open space by their homes that they could enjoy,” he said. “That social contract essentially has been broken.”
For residents like Luoma, issues still remain.
Stimple was adamant that Classic could not place a buffer between the townhomes where Luoma resides and the development.
“We have a detention pond that has to go there,” he said, adding that there is still a rear setback between the ranch-restricted homes and the townhomes.
As more studies are conducted and the final plat is developed, Morales hopes new solutions might be found for the setback, drainage and traffic concerns that residents still have.
He also hopes to continue the good relationship the residents have forged with Classic and that the developer will continue to listen to their input.
The next step for Classic is to file a detailed development plan, said Dan Sexton, principal planner with Colorado Springs Planning and Community Development.
If the development plan includes significant changes from the conceptual plan, such as reconfiguration of densities or additional densities, it likely would have to come back before council.
But if the plan comes in “totally in line and shows everything in accordance” with the conceptual plan or with slight deviations, “it stays in the administrative trajectory,” Sexton said.
He said he expects to see a first round of applications for the development plan and final plat by midsummer.