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Jan 9, 2013 12:41 AM by Andy Koen

Council tightens fire code; tables TOPS

COLORADO SPRINGS - On a 6-2 vote Tuesday, the Colorado Springs City Council passed stricter fire codes for any new homes built in the foothills of Colorado Springs. Smoke alarms, sprinkler systems and fire resistant Class A roofing materials are now required.

Wooded siding and shake shingles are prohibited and trees, bushes and shrubs can't grow within 15 feet of a house, tool shed, or other structure. Additionally, the branches of larger mature trees must be trimmed so that they do not touch the branches of smaller trees.

"I wish that we would have been able to enact this 30 years ago," said Fire Marshal Brett Lacey.

He says many of the requirements were recommended to the city zoning and planning commission and that newer developments in the city have already had to comply with them.

However, surveys conducted by the Housing and Building Authority estimated the total cost of the improvements at up to $7,000 per house.

A group of Waldo Canyon Fire victims pleaded with the council to vote against the codes because they say they are unfairly being forced to pay for the upgrades as they rebuild. This as their neighbors, whose homes were spared, are exempt from the upgrades.

"We're going through so much as it is right now with trying to get our lives back together, it just adds another burden to us," said fire victim Pamela Reeves.

Fire Marshall Lacey said extending the fire code to all of the roughly 34,000 in the foothills would create legal difficulties. He added that the city is working on a large-scale public education campaign to encourage more homeowners to make similar improvements.

The first such education meeting will take place next Tuesday, January 15 at the Cheyenne Mountain High School.

Lacey points out that among the 94 homes currently being rebuilt in Mountain Shadows, all but 10 have agreed to voluntarily meet by the new requirements.

Another big move was the decision to delay a vote referring a ballot issue to voters on whether to use Trails Open Space and Parks (TOPS) to pay for park maintenance. Passed by voters in 1997, the 0.1 percent sales tax was originally intended to pay for the acquisition of land for new parks, trails and open space.

The possible ballot issue would ask voters to amend the existing law in order let the city use up to 20 percent of the tax revenue to pay for park repairs and maintenance.

"If they have a playground broken, they can't use TOPS money to fix that playground, if they want to retrofit an irrigation system, they can't use TOPS money, now they could," explains Susan Davies, Executive Director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition.

Council members voted 7-2 to table the issue until their meeting January 22. The wanted to discuss adding language that would require the city observe a "maintenance of effort" when it comes to the parks budget. The reasoning for the addition is to keep future councils and mayors from raiding the parks budget once the TOPS money comes in.

"We don't want to see parks short changed, we want to see that at least what parks are getting now from the general fund continues at this level," said Davies.

Council also gave approval its approval to make the Manitou Springs Incline a legal, and legitimate trail. The vote comes after Congress passed a law enabling the Bureau of Land Management to permit the use old railroad line that crosses their land for recreation.

The Manitou Springs City Council is expected to take up the matter soon.

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