Outdoor amphitheater’s opponents organize after losing appeal

Outdoor amphitheater’s opponents organize after losing appeal
News  /  Business

JW Roth (Photo by Bryan Oller)

Jed Fuqua bought his home in the Greyhawk neighborhood of north Colorado Springs 12 years ago.

Fuqua, who has lived in Colorado Springs since he was a child, thought it was going to be the perfect place to raise his family. He was lured by the promise of family-centered amenities at Polaris Pointe: mom-and-pop shops and entertainment within walking distance.

Now, when he looks out his window, he sees earth movers turning dirt for what will be The Sunset amphitheater.

“I sacrificed a lot to move where I’m at,” Fuqua told Colorado Springs City Council on Jan. 10, during an appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision to approve the development plan for the amphitheater.

He believes The Sunset will bombard his home with noise that could last until 10:30 on weeknights and 11:30 p.m. on weekends. He worries that the concerts will fill the streets of his neighborhood with parked cars and stall traffic on Voyager Parkway and Spectrum Loop.

Katherine Gayle lives a little farther from the amphitheater site, in the Northgate Highlands neighborhood, but she thinks traffic and parking issues will affect her home when The Sunset opens in 2024.

Gayle and her family moved here in 2012 for reasons similar to Fuqua’s. She thought her then-5-year-old son would enjoy riding his bike to a proposed water park in Polaris Pointe.

“It was supposed to be high-end retail, like a Park Meadows mall south,” she says. “I was looking forward to that. But instead of having a permanent, vibrant center, it’s not a neighborhood gathering center — it’s 100 events a year. It’s already having a negative effect on our property value.”

Gayle and Fuqua were part of a group of neighboring residents who appealed the Planning Commission’s Nov. 9 decision. After more than six hours of testimony and debate that ran until nearly 1 a.m. Jan. 11, Council rejected the appeal by a vote of 8-1. Councilor Dave Donelson was the lone dissenter.

Fuqua says he is so concerned about the disruption he expects the amphitheater will bring to his life that he’s considering moving.

Gayle, an attorney, says she and her neighbors are feeling stress, frustration and powerlessness. They believe the commissioners and councilors ignored both their concerns and the requirements of the law.

These neighbors aren’t standing still, however. 

Two days after Council’s decision, Gayle picked up a petition to run for an at-large seat in the April 4, 2023, municipal election.

And she is helping to form a nonprofit group that intends to pursue options for minimizing potential impacts on their neighborhoods, including constant monitoring of the venue.

The venue

JW Roth, founder, CEO and board chair of entertainment company Notes Live, is developing the 8,000-seat outdoor amphitheater on 18 acres wrapped on three sides by Spectrum Loop. The backdrop for the stage, which will be located on the west side of the property, is the U.S. Air Force Academy and the Front Range.

“I’m going to build the most luxurious amphitheater in history” — one that will rival Fiddler’s Green and Red Rocks, Roth told Council at the January meeting.

Notes Live hired architects and consultants to design a $40 million venue Roth described in a July 2022 interview with Sixty35 news magazine (then the Colorado Springs Business Journal) as a space that will pamper both artists and ticket buyers with VIP suites, five-star restaurants, a rooftop bar, “over-the-top artist compounds” and state-of-the-art sound and lighting.

Notes Live says the venue will host 30 to 40 major acts each year, generate $102 million in annual local economic impact, create 500 new jobs and raise $41 million in tax revenue in its first 10 years.

Notes Live came up with a plan for dispersed parking that will include 236 permanent and 500 interim on-site spaces, 195 spaces at the Bass Pro Shops store in Polaris Pointe, 475 spaces at The Classical Academy school south of the amphitheater and 1,164 spaces at Compassion International’s headquarters off Voyager Parkway. In addition, 469 spaces on both sides of Spectrum Loop could be used by concertgoers. Notes Live has reached or is negotiating agreements for the off-site spaces and will add landscaping and sidewalks along Spectrum Loop and shuttles from the lots to get patrons from their cars to the venue.

In all, the parking plan provides for more than 3,000 spaces — a third more than the 2,000 spaces the city’s code would require for a sold-out event.

Notes Live’s Senior Vice President of Real Estate Development Bob Mudd told Council that if parking were unavailable for an event at any of the offsite lots — for example if there is a conflicting event at The Classical Academy or if Compassion denies use of its lots because it finds an act unsuitable, Notes Live would reduce capacity by 2.5 tickets per available parking space.

Ticket buyers will pay a parking fee of at least $10 and will have to choose where they will park when they purchase, Mudd said.

Chris Lieber, project manager for consultant N.E.S., said the dispersed parking plan will minimize traffic congestion and deter neighborhood parking. An extensive traffic management plan has been developed for events.

Regarding sound, a 28-foot-high acoustic wall will be built on the east side of the amphitheater, where future development of several restaurant buildings will eventually serve as a sound barrier, Mudd told Council. Notes Live will measure sound levels on Voyager Parkway and North Gate Boulevard at regular intervals during performances and require that operators reduce levels if they exceed city code standards, he said.

Notes Live has invested significantly in studies of sound, traffic and parking, Mudd said.

“We take very seriously the impact on the local community,” he said. “We have made substantial changes to our original plan.” If Notes Live does not live up to its commitments, he pointed out, “the city of Colorado Springs has the capacity to shut us down.”

Roth told Council he has operated his other businesses, including Boot Barn Hall at Bourbon Brothers,” with responsibility” and pledged “to work diligently to be a good neighbor.”

Notes Live cancelled an interview Sixty35 scheduled with Roth last week. Notes Live’s publicist said in an email: “We are routinely inviting organizations, citizens, and business owners to our offices for face-to-face conversations to answer questions and ease concerns. We will continue to keep our doors open as we continue this project.”

You can bet we will be calling for every noise violation.
— Katherine Gayle

Neighbors’ concerns

The Planning Commission granted variances to Notes Live concerning parts of the parking plan, including the number of spaces that would be on site and allowable distances for offsite parking, and incorporated 41 conditions into the development plan.

After the Planning Commission meeting, Gayle researched the city code and laws that govern the approval process.

“In the fair process of law, the purpose of government is to weigh and protect everybody’s property rights,” she says. But she contends that the commission granted the waivers and approved the development plan despite unmet review criteria that include compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood, compliance with the Polaris Pointe master plan and PlanCOS, off-street parking requirements, ecological impacts, accessibility, traffic and mitigation of offsite impacts including light and noise.

“I was appalled that City Council didn’t address our concerns and then ruled against us,” Gayle says.

Within days of the decision, the neighbor group started to coalesce again.

Several people met with Mitch Hammes, neighborhood services manager with the city, Fuqua says. They discussed how to get neighborhood permit parking, enforcement of concert cutoff times and what to do if noise is excessive.

They learned that the city has three mobile decibel meters that could be deployed to verify if sound levels exceed the city’s limits.

“I believe there will be multiple reports happening within the opening days of the amphitheater such that his team will be very busy,” Fuqua says.

The group discussed a court challenge to the Council decision, Gayle says, but ultimately dismissed the idea.

“There is what is called a ‘106 appeal’ that is saying that the city acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner because they didn’t consider the criteria for variances and requirements of the law,” she said. “But a 106 appeal has to be done within 21 days.”

The group was unable to find an attorney in Colorado Springs to file it within the time limit.

“We reached out to lawyers in Denver and Boulder,” she said. “They said it would be at least $30,000, and that it’s very difficult to prove an arbitrary and capricious standard.”

But they intend to use whatever means they can to make sure Notes Live lives up to every one of those 41 conditions.

“We’re not rolling over,” Gayle says. “You can bet we will be calling for every noise violation. We will be calling if it becomes a hardship to have all these cars parked in our neighborhood.”

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