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Infill redevelopment project on Sopris riles neighbors

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John Colson

Sopris Sun Correspondent

A proposed new four-plex at the corner of Second Street and Sopris Avenue has churned up considerable resistance among some neighbors of the project, including an accusation by one critic that the owner of the property was engaging in “class warfare” in her remarks at a recent public hearing.

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The four-plex, if approved, would be built at 191 Sopris, on the site of an existing 2,600-square-foot, one-story, single family home, most recently owned and occupied by long time local resident Harold Leonard but now owned by 13-year local resident Kim Kelley and a development company, Sopris Properties LLC.

The plan, according to documents on file at Town Hall and information generated at two meetings of the planning and zoning commission, is to tear down the old house and replace it with a two-story, 8,200 square-foot four-plex of rental units, which is to be 31 feet high at the peak of the roof, with parking in several ground-level garages as well as along the alleyway to the north of the site.

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The owners, who are applying under the town’s latest “in-fill” growth regulations, are seeking a variance to the town’s required setbacks of 20-feet from the property line along public rights-of-way, to reduce the setbacks to 10 feet along Sopris and 15 feet along Second Street.

Project planner Mark Chain has explained that the smaller setbacks will allow the building to be located closer to the streets and keep it from being too close to the nearest neighbor to the east, the home of 92-year-old Laura Bair.

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Although critics of the project have expressed a number of objections to the project as proposed, it is the combination of the mass and height of the building that is the main problem, according to several neighbors.

“I am opposed to the size of this, I call it a monstrosity, because it does not fit into the neighborhood,” said Brigitte Heller, who lives next door to the proposed four-plex, at 226 S. Second St. “It is all right for them to tear down the old house, but not to replace it with this, this skyscraper.”

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Heller concedes that, under the city’s current codes, the building can be up to 35 feet tall at the roof ridgeline, without any review from the town.

But the setback-variance request, Heller maintains, means the project must undergo review by the P&Z and the town’s board of trustees, and she feels that the review should lead to a call for reduced height and mass in a building that she maintains would cut off her views of the sky and of Mt. Sopris if approved as proposed.

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Past meetings

According to minutes from a Sept. 11 P&Z meeting, and the packet notes from a second meeting, on Nov. 13, project planner Mark Chain and architect Jess Pederson told commission members that they have tried to put together a project that meets current demand for rental housing, is in keeping with the neighborhood, and does not create an unacceptable impact on its neighbors.

By moving the house closer to the streets than called for in the town codes, and putting most of the parking in garages and off the alleyway, Chain told the P&Z members, “they are trying to fit in with the neighborhood and not create a suburban feel,” according to minutes from the Sept. 11 meeting.

At the Nov. 13 meeting, Chain introduced some changes to the plans, notably a breaking-up of the roof lines with gables and elimination of two garages to make the building less massive, and the addition of new architectural elements on the Second Street frontage of the building to modify what critics had called the “commercial” feel of the building.

These changes did not, however, satisfy the neighbors.

Jeff Maus, a former builder who lives catty-corner to the project site, is opposed to the plan, and feels the project’s owner, Kim Kelley, who lives in River Valley Ranch, has ignored and belittled the opposition to the project.

“It’s too big a project for the lot,” he said when contacted by The Sopris Sun, adding the concern that the debate over the project has turned negative.

“I think we’ve all really made an effort to talk about the project on its merit, and not have it be personal,” Maus told The Sopris Sun.

But at a Nov. 13 meeting of the P&Z, he and Heller both reported that a frustrated Kelley remarked that her neighbors, living in “their modest little houses,” are simply unwilling to accept change,

At that point, Maus said, she was the one who made it a personal battle between herself and her intended neighbors.

“I think with that comment, it did [become personal],” Maus said. “That comment was an insult to the entire neighborhood. I just really did take that to be, like, class warfare.”

At another point in his interview with the Sun, Maus declared that, “If this is approved, we’re gonna start an arms race of house sizes here,” meaning he fears that future redevelopment proposals will involve ever-larger new structures.

“We all know that change is inevitable,” Maus continued, having earlier explained, “I think the neighborhood does embrace change,” even in cases where the neighborhood density is increased.

“I think density (as a civic tool to prevent sprawl at the edge of town) is a good thing,” Maus went on. “But this is not good planning.”

The project plans, already having weathered a P&Z public hearing that stretched over two meetings, were expected to be either approved or denied at the Nov. 13 meeting.

But the development team, after a short consultation at the end of that night’s public hearing, opted for a second continuance.

Town planner John Leybourne said that, in a conversation following the public hearing, Chain remarked that it was possible the project plan will undergo more serious changes in light of the comments made at the two public hearings.

“They may do it, or they may not,” Leybourne said. “It’s up in the air.”

Chain could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The matter is now scheduled for a third continuation of the public hearing, on Dec. 10 at Town Hall.

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