COLORADO SPRINGS – The dispute over a planned low-income housing development in southwest Colorado Springs took a leap into federal Fair Housing Act territory when the owners and developers of the property filed a civil rights complaint with the Colorado Division of Civil Rights.
Developers Broadmoor Bluffs Apartments, LLC and Commonwealth Development Corporation of America (Commonwealth), both headquartered in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, complain that three neighborhood organizations that Commonwealth calls “BBNA,” were formed solely to “oppose the Project by any means necessary” and members engaged in “discriminatory” conduct.
Commonwealth claims that objections to the development from Cynthia Grey, President of the Las Casas Condominium Owners Association and Daniel Martin, Chair of the Broadmoor Bluffs Neighborhood Association and President of the Broadmoor Downs Homeowners Association are violations of federal Fair Housing Act protections because “There is no information to suggest that BBNA actually serves any legitimate purpose, or operates for any reason other than to oppose the Project by any means necessary. The position of the BBNA when it comes to affordable housing is unequivocal – it belongs only in select neighborhoods; and certainly not in its backyard.”
In the complaint, Commonwealth cites a Martin letter from February 2017 where it claims BBNA expressed “stereotypical and discriminatory views.” The letter asked a series of questions related to income requirements and qualifications for tenants. Commonwealth added, “Indeed, representative of the organization’s discriminatory motive and intent, one member of BBNA stated, in a public forum, ‘…in this type of low income housing many residents will be single moms that often have multiple baby daddies.’” Commonwealth did not identify the individual charged with making the comment.
“Any purported concern for safety is mere pretext for the true discriminatory views advanced by BBNA. Indeed, there is no factual basis for any safety concerns,” Commonwealth determined.
Claiming it’s acting in the interests of unidentified future residents, the developers say BBNA’s “actions and inactions will have an unnecessary discriminatory effect on prospective residents of The Ridge based upon their race; color, national origin, familial status and disability status.”
In a written response, Martin accused Commonwealth of filing a “SLAPP suit.”
“SLAPP” is an acronym for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation,” a tactic some claim is used to intimidate members of the public from speaking out. But the definition of a SLAPP is both legally indistinct and can be highly subjective. Some states have anti-SLAPP laws on the books. Colorado has no explicit law on the subject, but the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that lawsuits that appear to be intended as an expedient for quashing public protest are subject to heightened scrutiny by state judges.
Martin added, “The other ironic aspect of this attack on our two HOAs is that the developer group, after justifying their development plan with extravagant displays of virtue signaling, reveal their true natures by weaponizing the Colorado Division of Civil Rights to punish and intimidate upstanding residents and property owners simply for following city appeal procedures.”
It will be up to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and ultimately an administrative law judge to determine if Commonwealth has standing to make a Fair Housing Act complaint on behalf of prospective future residents. Also, they’ll decide whether Martin and Grey’s comments during a public land-use process violate federal housing regulations.
The BBNA filed an appeal of the Jan. 18 city planning commission approval of the development plan. At a contentious March 13 City Council public hearing of the appeal, BBNA spent 45 minutes presenting what it felt were more than 40 violations of city codes, state laws and federal regulations in the planning commission’s approval of the development. BBNA also voiced concerns about legal access to the development and safety issues due to a lack of sidewalks along the access road that BBNA say endangers children and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“We have been concerned with the additional liability (created by) The Ridge pedestrians who will be using the Safeway truck delivery route as the sole ingress/egress from the apartments to Broadmoor Bluffs Drive,” said Grey in her written response to Complete Colorado.
Frequent semi-truck use and a limited-space turnaround for trucks combined with the lack of ADA compliant sidewalks for pedestrians and risks to children posed by heavy truck traffic are BBNA’s prime concerns. “It seems we are the only party concerned with the safety of the residents,” Grey said.
“The DORA charges are an interesting twist, and apparently common in a fight against public pushback of low-income projects,” said Martin, “We followed the established planning appeal process. Again, when Commonwealth can’t fight with facts, they resort to this. “I don’t believe this is the type of out-of-state company Colorado Springs wants to attract – one who uses fear and intimidation to stop public comment and involvement in the land-use process,” suggested Martin.
At the end of the marathon five-hour public hearing where dozens of citizens voiced their opinions for and against the project the council voted 6 to 3 to deny the appeal and allow the project to move forward. Councilmen Bill Murray, Andy Pico and Tom Strand against denying the appeal.