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First step in controversial Black Forest development plan approved Tuesday by El Paso County commissioners

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- El Paso County commissioners did what the county's planning commission recently could not; agree to approve a preliminary plan to build hundreds of homes and a luxury resort hotel at the existing Flying Horse North subdivision in Black Forest.

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The 3-1 vote came just before 7:30 p.m.; Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez cast the lone dissenting vote.

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More than 100 people crammed into the county commissioners' chamber at Centennial Hall for the discussion that began at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

At 4 p.m., dozens of people had signed up for a public hearing to oppose the project; no one stepped forward to speak in support of it.

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The discussion began with an unexpected development; Commissioner Holly Williams recused herself from voting, saying that a discussion she recently had on the matter with an individual compromised her ability to be impartial.

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That upset several in the audience because Black Forest is in Williams' district and they demanded to know more about why she recused herself.

County Attorney Kenneth Hodges explained that it would be her decision to reveal more details about her recusal.

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A similar development happened in the recent planning commission meeting when a member who lives across the road from the project, recused himself; three other members were absent, leaving eight members to deadlock on a 4-4 vote and send the matter to county commissioners without a recommendation.

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The project would increase the size of the subdivision from the current 82 homes to 846, as well as build a 275-unit luxury hotel, a golf clubhouse, and restaurants in an area bordered by Highway 83, Hodgen Road, and Black Forest Road.

Opponents say that the project isn't compatible with the surrounding area because it would build more homes on smaller lot sizes, increase traffic and turn the community into more of an urban area than a rural area; another complaint is that the project violates the county's recently-updated master plan for growth.

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The developer disagrees, saying that the project meets most, if not all, master plan guidelines.

"Toughest one was the master plan, but I am satisfied that it is in general conformance, even if it didn't check every block," said Commissioner Carrie Geitner. "I also don't want to get into the habit of government telling people what they can and can't do with their private property."

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Gonzalez explained why he voted in opposition to the plan.

"It doesn't look like the hotel, which is tourism/commercial, is consistent with the master plan," he said. "And I don't want to throw out the master plan -- which we worked years on and spent millions of dollars on. Why have a master plan if we don't use it?"

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Commissioners approved what's called a sketch plan, an early vision of the development that still requires several steps that must be approved by commissioners -- particularly on the question of how water will be supplied to the project.

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.

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