Fountain City Council Rejects Request From Singer Ranch to De-Annex From City 4-1

 

September 18, 2019



At its September 10 meeting, the Fountain City Council voted 4-1 (with Mayor Gabe Ortega opposed) to deny a request from Singer Ranch to disconnect (de-annex) a 275+ acre portion of the ranch from the City of Fountain. Some councilmembers, particularly Councilmember Sharon Thompson, didn’t want to release the parcel due to the potential income the city could receive if a commercial portion of the property does get developed.

The ranch (located south of Fontaine Boulevard and west of Marksheffel Road) has been in the Singer family decades and is now owned by the Singer children who are in their 50s and 60s. They just want to sell the property and move on into their golden years.

However, attempts to do so haven’t been successful. There is a potential for 900 homes to be built on the property, but to date, efforts to market the land have been futile.

When the Singer’s parents annexed to the city in June, 1989 it was zoned Planned Unit Development District.

The Overall Development Plan for the property includes a mixture of commercial, residential and a park/school site. The land has remained undeveloped all of these years.

In May, the city received a request from S&D Law representing R.C. Singer, Inc. seeking the de-annexation. City staff had phone conferences and in-person meetings with representatives of R.C. Singer to discuss the request. Staff identified concerns regarding the request to include: public safety, creation of additional smaller enclaves and loss of commercial land.


It was explained if the property is de-annexed, the emergency services provided to the property would fall under the jurisdiction of El Paso County Sheriff, who typically has one patrol vehicle per shift in District 6 (Widefield district.) The deputy also acts as the “cover” deputy for Security and the B Street/Stratmoor Valley area which pulls them from Widefield on a regular basis to respond to both emergency and non-emergency calls. In case of emergencies, there is a high probability the the sheriff’s office would request mutual aid from city of Fountain Police as it is the closest responding agency. This would take resources away from city residents to respond to the area. The property would also no longer have fire protection from City of Fountain. Staff indicated there would only be wildland fire protection from El Paso County unless the Singers petition and are granted inclusion into the security fire district.


Staff reports indicated the de-annexation would leave two smaller enclaves (25 acres and 10 acres). The Overall Development Plan designated a significant portion of commercial land along the frontages of Fontaine Boulevard and Marksheffel Road. Staff also reported the city and El Paso County have relied on this when making recommendations on future land uses. As surrounding areas develop (Lorson Ranch to the east, Appletree and Almagre to the south) there will be a significant need for commercial land in this corridor to serve existing and future residents. Staff indicated it would be poor long-range planning for the city to relinquish the commercial land.

The 2005 Fountain Comprehensive Development Plan anticipated this area to develop as single-family residential, multi-family and commercial.

The 2007 Annexation Plan identified this property as an area of “special consideration” as it does not have connectivity to the existing city limits and may be considered for disconnection through a collaborative analysis between the property owner and the city. Staff reports stated it should be noted that the area for “special consideration” includes more land than is being requested for disconnection at this time. Additionally, the Annexation Plan stipulates that at the time of development of the property “the city finds that sales tax generating or job-creating land uses will off-set the negative fiscal impacts of providing the municipal services to these parcels the city should consider keeping such lands within the city of Fountain.

The report also stated that at this time, the city has not received a request for development on the property to determine through a cost-benefit analysis if certain land uses will offset the fiscal impacts.

The property is located within the city’s designated urban growth boundary and urban services area. Substantial consideration should be given with considering disconnection of land from the city and the potential long-term impacts of the action.

City Attorney Troy Johnson told the council that Colorado law gives them wide discretion in considering the request. He added that the council should consider “will the best interest of the city be served by this?” and “Is this in the best interest of the city?”

Before discussion began, Councilmember Sam Gieck recused himself, stating he had spoken to Mr. Singer about the request, and felt he shouldn’t participate in making the determination as such.

Richard Strauss, attorney for the Singers explained the annexation took place 30+ years ago. He said then-owners Mr. and Mrs. Singer were concerned about flyovers (of air traffic headed to the Colorado Springs airport to the north) and felt that if they were part of the city of Fountain they would be protected from them due to an aviation easement.

He explained since then, both parents have passed on and the Singers’ five children, in their 50s to 60s, don’t have the where-with-all to develop the property themselves. They want to market the property to developers, and haven’t had any luck doing so.

Strauss said they have heard from numerous potential buyers that being in Fountain is a problem, because of tap fees, length of time to get approvals and more. He cited the property is already an island, surrounding by unincorporated property and is not tied to any city of Fountain boundaries.

“We applied in May to disconnect and served notice to the Board of County Commissioners in early July,” he added.

He said there are two smaller parcels on the ranch, a smaller square that is the home to the Widefield Water and Sanitation District office which isn’t part of this request and a small parcel owned by Ronald Singer.

Regarding emergency services he said there is a high probability that El Paso County Sheriff’s office will require mutual aid, but that already happens.

He also stated Security Fire Protection District has given an approval and he didn’t anticipate any problems regarding that coverage.

He said Widefield Water and Sanitation District would provide their services to the property, Black Hills Energy would provide gas and City of Fountain would provide electric.

Next to speak was Brian Singer, President of RC Singer Inc., who told the council they have no interest in commercial development and that is the single major hindrance in marketing the land.

He stressed that if the property is de-annexed it could be developed with up to 900 homes, and those residents would be coming into Fountain for retail, professional services and more.

He said there is no compelling reason not to grant the request, adding city and county staff neither recommended against it or for it.

Mayor Gabe Ortega then spoke and said he wanted to make some clarifying statements, and explained it is a slippery slope for cities to de-annex properties.

He also said, “I heard from you there are less requirements (if the land is outside the city) and you wouldn’t have to follow as many rules…”

He explained those rules are in place for a reason, adding that the city has dealt with some repercussions from areas developed outside the city, for example Lorson Ranch. He said they didn’t follow as many standards and rules and as such the city is dealing with storm water issues. “We deal with the fall out,” he said.

Regarding a comment that Fountain is hard to deal he said, “Our citizens want smart growth to pay its own way.”

Strauss then explained just because the city might be difficult to deal with, he understood the city has its rules for a reason. He then said that isn’t the only reason the Singers want to de-annex. He said the type of development the city wants to see occur on the parcel is not feasible.

Councilmember Richard Applegate asked “Why is it more desirable to be in the county? Have you had offers for housing developments?”

A listing/broker agent for the property, Mr. Carter Sales told the council there have been inquiries about the land, but when it’s conveyed to them about the portion that is commercial they go away. “Builders look at where they can compete in the marketplace,” he said. “We are looking for a master developer and it’s probably five to ten years out depending on the market demand and economy before this happens.” He said it’s a matter of economics.

Mayor Ortega then asked why the city would require commercial space in the middle of a residential area and said it sounds like a line in the sand was drawn.

“If it is as simple as we are requiring commercial and they don’t want it, we are fighting a weird battle.”

Staff then explained there are three different pieces of commercial activity bordering major corridors so there won’t be just rooftops, adding it’s not a city policy, however residential developments cost the city money. The way to get that money back is through commercial development.

Deputy City Planner Todd Evans said, “As a city it wouldn’t make sense to OK 900 homes with no commercial (development) to get back costs.”

He said the plan was created 30 years ago and has sat available since then.

He explained the long-range comprehensive plan for the city that was initially proposed in 2005 and updated in 2018 shows a 35 acre parcel that could be developed commercially.

One of Singer’s representatives said they would love to sell the land as a commercial development because they would make a lot more money doing so, but added the demand for it is just not there.

Mr. Singer, who lived on the property starting at the age of 6 said he had spent 58 years on the property, explained the farm was almost as old as he and his siblings- who range in age from 67 to 57.

“We want to move on. The property is sitting with us. Dad died 30 years ago, Mom about 20 years ago,” he said. “We have not been able to get it marketed. Yes we want to move on. If we don’t do this it will go to our kids and grand kids and there are going to be a lot of individuals involved.”

He explained city of Fountain gets $22.26 per year from taxes off the land. If developed the benefits will be that people living there will come into the city to eat at restaurants, shop and more. “It’s a win-win,” he added.

He said being that it is surrounded by county land; the city would be getting rid of 275 acres plus 22 acres of county land. “That’s 297 acres you no longer have to deal with.”

“You get the community benefits but won’t have to be concerned with taking care of roads, providing fire and emergency services,” he added.

He said in three and a half years of the ranch being marketed they are getting no interest, and yet all the county land around them is getting developed.

“What are we doing wrong?” he asked. “We asked you to consider this request to let us out so we can move on with our lives as a family. Otherwise it sits. If it sits another 5-10 years, we will be gone.”

Councilmember Sharon Thompson asked “what about bus services to that area,” adding if it’s in the city they could figure out how to provide it. She also cited walk ability as a concern, saying people want to be able to walk to a local shop or dollar store for items they need. She also cited safety and said the sheriff’s office is pretty much maxed out.

She was most adamant about Fountain’s need for more commercial property and said that long range regional transportation plans include concerns for developments in the county dumping into cities. She said Mesa Ridge Parkway is almost filled 24 hours a day. She said urban developments in rural areas create needs for those residents, adding she is leaning toward keeping this in the city. She said every property sits and waits until the right buyer comes along.

She expressed a concern about one sheriff’s officer being available to serve the potential 900 homes when that deputy is already covering other areas.

“My biggest concern is the tax base we need from commercial properties to provide other services. I get it we all got stuck with properties, but we need to keep this in city of Fountain.

Gordon Rick said he read from the staff report there will be a significant need for commercial and said it would be poor long-range planning for the city to relinquish the land.

“Our tax dollars are not keeping up with the population,” he stated. “If we give up commercial land… I know it’s painful.”

He said as a 23 year resident of Countryside it has been a long wait but they will soon finally see a small parcel developed for a store there.

“(City Attorney) Troy (Johnson) has told me in the past I’m not allowed to speak for the planning commission (of which he is the chair) but we have been flexible (in considering developments.) We have been flexible and give options to make it more palatable for sues. We are more than willing to work on developments to accommodate.”

He also said he didn’t understand why the request wasn’t presented to the planning commission before coming to City Council, adding we could have asked questions and made a recommendation.

City Attorney Johnson said this is a strategic council decision and ultimately the City Council needs to review the matter and dig deep into the facts. He said it could have been sent to Planning Commission first but the state requires the council dig into it.

Councilmember Thompson added that the Comprehensive Overall Development Plan was created with citizen input.

Darrell Couch then addressed the council expressing concerns that the same standards are not being applied across the board, citing previous issues with removing Builder’s Lane.

Fran Carrick then spoke saying she appreciates what the Singers are going through. She said, “It’s been 10 years since we have approved a new development (in the city). She explained as she has been out speaking to residents many express concerns about not being able to get commercial development here.

“We just lost the shoe store,” she began to say as Councilmember Thompson retorted “that was an entire chain that closed.”

Carrick replied, “It’s still dollars, there is nothing new in there yet? Fifteen years ago we needed more roof tops to get more business. We got them. We have doubled.”

Mayor Ortega said, “we fight with Colorado Springs to attract businesses” and said he sees the lines at our fast food businesses.

Carrick then added, “I see Mr. Singer’s point. I don’t have an answer but I wish I did have a solution. I don’t like just saying that I see a problem.”

After more lengthy discussion, Mayor Ortega said that like Mrs. Carrick, he doesn’t know why the city would want to keep a parcel that isn’t in city boundaries in hopes of that piece of commercial land being developed. He said they need to look at the entire area and looking at that one little corner (for commercial) won’t offset anything.

“For me, if it wasn’t an island unto itself it would be a no brainer. I don’t know why we should fight this if they want out. It won’t make or break us. We will provide some services there; we do mutual aid to Lorson Ranch.”

Councilmember Thompson then said “we have citizens upset we built a school and fire department in prime commercial places, adding that the Singers could move things around and put commercial property on Marksheffel, adding that taxes are much higher on commercial property than residential. She said, “if it’s already in the city, it needs to be kept in the city.”

Mayor Ortega replied, “I don’t feel like this is going to break the bank for us. Mrs. Carrick even said we are losing businesses that are not getting replaced.”

Councilmember Jim Coke then made a motion to deny the request, which was seconded by Thompson. The vote was four yes (to deny the disconnect request) with Coke, Thompson, Applegate and Lauer voting yes and Mayor Ortega casting the only vote against denying the request. Mayor Pro-tem Phil Thomas was not in attendance.

 

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