[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
Photo By Scott Larrick
Ricky Stuart on her front porch. Behind her, the site of the proposed
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
· 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.
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
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
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."