[Hpn] Colo Spgs Mega-shelter plan stumbles (long)

Thu, 18 May 2000 22:23:58 -0400 (EDT)

The following is from the current issue of The Independent, our free weekly 
advertising supported 'alternative'  newspaper. The promoters really ARE 
behaving in a very stealthy manner. Bit by bit, their tactics are being 
'outed' and documented.
Matt Parkhouse, RN; Colorado Springs, CO

Shelter plan poorly conceived, neighbors say
by Malcolm Howard 

MAY 18, 2000: 

When backers of a proposed homeless services complex began to secretly buy up 
property in the south downtown Mill Street neighborhood last fall, they said 
stealth was necessary because they wanted to make sure their plans were in 
order before going public. 

Now, five months later, a task force of seven residents picked to represent 
the neighborhood say they're still in the dark on key aspects of the proposed 
shelter and, as a result, have shifted from tentative support for the plan to 
outright opposition. 

Photo By Scott Larrick
Ricky Stuart on her front porch. Behind her, the site of the proposed 
Montgomery Center.

Backed by a $5 million grant from the El Pomar Foundation, along with near 
free use of 3.7 acres owned by Colorado Springs Utilities, the American Red 
Cross intends to build a $6 million, 50,000-square-foot homeless campus. 

The plan calls for a shelter, soup kitchen, medical clinic and a variety of 
other services on the Martin Drake Power Plant compound on the south end of 

The shift in the neighborhood mood is significant because when the project 
was first announced, many residents supported the shelter idea -- a fact that 
wowed project backers who are used to facing tough opposition. 

"The majority of people on the task force were open-minded about the 
shelter," said Lyn Akers, a resident of Mill Street and a task force member. 
"But as we have gone through the process, getting together with the people 
behind this project, we've seen that they just do not know what they are 

"It appears they were handed a huge piece of money and a free chunk of land, 
so they said, 'Great, let's do this,' " Akers said. "But it seems clear to us 
that they do not have a clue about how to go about doing this and what the 
details might be." 

Examples of poor planning cited by residents include a variety of small 
details and basic facts about the shelter's proposed operations: 

 The Red Cross still doesn't know how many beds the shelter will contain 
when built. 

 The project partners have still not developed the rules under which the 
shelter will be operated. Residents fear drunken or unruly clients may be 
simply released into their neighborhood. 

 The shelter has not made provisions for the fact that many streets leading 
to the shelter cannot handle two-way traffic when cars are parked in the 

 Throughout the planning process, project backers have added to the list of 
services scheduled to be housed at the center without making any provisions 
for increased traffic or parking needs. 

Parking-study mystery 

Some residents say they lost further faith in the project after they learned 
that a parking study described in the Red Cross' development application had 
not in fact been done. 

In the application to the city planning department, filed March 21, the 
agency wrote: "... we have performed a detailed programming study that would 
enable us to determine the amount of parking required to accommodate all of 
this facility's employees, clients and visitors." 

When residents asked for copies of the study, however, they were told by the 
consultants who designed the facility, local planning firm Thomas & Thomas, 
that the study had not been completed, according to residents interviewed for 
this story. 

The company's president, Parry Thomas, could not be reached for comment at 
press time, but David Morikawa, the chief executive officer of the American 
Red Cross, said his agency did not mislead residents. 

"We conducted an internal study of parking needs for the three agencies that 
will be using the [Montgomery Center] last spring," said Morikawa. "That's 
how we came up with the plan for 80 parking spaces." 

Residents say that's the first time they've heard that explanation, adding 
that since the project has changed considerably since its inception last 
spring, the year-old study is obsolete. 

Due to these objections, the Red Cross commissioned an independent traffic 
and parking study from LCS Transportation Consultants, which just released 
its findings this week. 

A needed shelter 

Traffic study or no, supporters of the consolidated homeless center (named 
the Montgomery Community Center after an El Pomar trustee) say it's 
understandable that Red Cross staff does not yet have the project finalized. 

"Do they have all the answers? No, of course not. Nobody's going to have all 
the answers right away," said Linda Dickinson, a resident of Conejos Street 
who early on agreed to sell her home to make way for a planned day-care 
center for the children of shelter clients. 

"We have to give these people a break," she said of the project backers. 
"This is a very complex and very necessary project for the overall community. 
This is not just about this one neighborhood." 

The project is also supported by a variety of homeless service agencies who 
say centering their activities in one place will help homeless people by 
making it easier for them to obtain services. 

And the Red Cross' Morikawa said it's not his agency's intent to mistreat the 
new facility's neighbors. "We're always concerned about our neighbors," he 
said. "We are listening and trying to come up with a win-win solution." 

Morikawa conceded that much of the information being requested by residents 
is still not nailed down. For example, he said he won't know exactly how many 
beds the shelter will contain until final architectural drawings are 

But he said the agency can help make improvements to the neighborhood that 
will offset any problems caused by the shelter -- though he was not sure 
where money for those improvements would come from. 

Among other things, residents have asked for road, sidewalk, sewer and other 
improvements, as well as 24-hour-a-day security, as a condition of the 
project's approval. 

But Morikawa suggested it was unlikely that the Red Cross could budge on some 
of the residents' more fundamental demands: that the shelter be relocated to 
an industrial area or that the soup-kitchen component of the shelter be 
removed from the proposal. 

"If you look at the proposed site, the neighborhood does border us on the 
east side, but the north, west and south sides are faced by [Colorado 
Springs] utilities, Fountain Creek, the railroad and the highway," he said. 
"So three sides of the facility are not affecting any neighborhoods." 

But residents say that means that the 200 to 400 people who attend the soup 
kitchen each day, and the up to 300 people who stay in the shelter, will have 
nowhere to go but into their neighborhood. 

"We're not against the homeless," said Ricky Stuart, a task force member who 
lives directly across from the proposed shelter. "We already have homeless in 
our neighborhood. The existing Red Cross Shelter is only two blocks away. But 
this plan is just too huge for any neighborhood to handle."

Bells and whistles 

Meanwhile, shelter backers face another hurdle if they intend to site the 
project in the Mill Street neighborhood. The city's Fire Prevention Bureau, 
which reviews development plans, has disapproved the shelter's preliminary 
plan, citing inadequate access to the proposed building. 

To win approval, fire prevention Officer Roger Costello said project backers 
must widen Conejos Street from its current 20-foot width to at least 28 feet. 

In his review, Costello corroborated neighborhood concerns that the shelter 
will bring a dramatic increase in the number of emergency vehicles driving 
through residential streets with sirens blaring or lights flashing. 

Last year, he noted, Colorado Springs police and fire crews responded to the 
existing Red Cross Shelter a total of 366 times. They responded 34 times to 
the soup kitchen, he said. 

"The neighborhood was concerned about sirens, and I had to tell them the 
truth," said Costello. "We do respond down there quite a bit."