Notice the rectangular white hole in the middle of the drawing for Gold Hill Mesa?
That is Villa de Mesa, a 25-unit townhome complex built in 1970-71 by developer George Shiner as part of a sprawling community of 500-plus townhomes surrounded by apartment buildings and a shopping center.
But the project ended after the first 25 units were built. And tiny Villa de Mesa has been an island ever since.
That is until developer Bob Willard came along and conceived his Gold Hill Mesa on the 210 acres surrounding Villa de Mesa.
Actually, the plans for both projects are similar. While Shiner concentrated on townhomes and apartments, Willard conceived a broader mix of single-family houses, townhomes as well as commercial and retail space.
He broke ground in 2005 and today has 107 occupied homes on the 167 acres zoned residential. Initial plans called for upwards of 1,800 homes.
Today, after the crushing real estate collapse that hit in 2007, Willard said about 700 homes is a more realistic target.
Actually, the disaster hit Willard in February 2008 when his partner, California-based builder John Laing Homes, pulled out of the project. A year later, it declared bankruptcy.
The Laing bankruptcy nearly caused Gold Hill Mesa to fail, as well. Willard said his line of credit was based on his contract with Laing and the builder’s agreement to buy 36 lots every three months.
When Laing failed, it abandoned three unfinished home foundations, one three-unit condominium foundation, and four partially completed homes.
Willard said he spent the last 18 months or so buying the abandoned buildings, as well as about 40 Laing lots, out of foreclosure.
In the meantime, he needed to develop new lots for other home builders to buy and build on. All without easy access to funds which dried up in the national mortgage meltdown.
Willard said his efforts to salvage his project left him with no money to complete a $300,000 concrete wall he promised to build around the existing Villa de Mesa neighborhood.
The wall is about half finished. A chainlink fence, wrapped in tarps, shields the other half of the boundary.
Willard said he intends to complete the wall when the economy improves and homebuilding takes off. But he’s not selling nearly enough lots yet to allow him to finish the wall. Willard said he expects to sell about 50 lots this year or less than half during his peak years.
Villa de Mesa residents are angry and want written guarantees that the wall will be built.
Last week, they asked the Colorado Springs Planning Commission to enforce a contract Willard and the neighborhood signed in 2005 regarding the wall. Or they want Willard to post a bond to guarantee it’s construction if his project fails.
They also want their views of the mountains protected from homes built along the wall. And they want drainage completed, as the 2005 contract promised.
The planning commission approved Willard’s plans to develop 20 new lots adjacent to the south wall, despite Villa de Mesa neighbors’ objections. The commissioners urged Willard to finish the wall, but they said the project was too important to stop based on the wall.
This photo shows where Gold Hill Mesa Drive would be extended to 21st Street on the west. The new lots would be built along the drive with 16 backing up to the wall and four on the south side.
Here is a look at the $30,000 gate and part of the wall Willard built for Villa de Mesa. The smokestack visible is a landmark from the old Golden Cycle gold and silver mill that operated on the property from 1906-49.
This photo shows the eastern edge of the wall that runs about 700 feet along the southern boundary of Villa de Mesa. Neighbors want the east wall built.
But Willard said he doesn’t have the money now to do it and says it would be premature to build it before construction of adjoining streets and homes is done.
Villa de Mesa residents are tired of looking at the tarp-wrapped chainlink fence installed as a temporary barrier during construction. It has grown tattered and has failed to keep out homeless people who have been discovered in the pool area of the neighborhood. It also flaps in the wind.
To read more about Gold Hill Mesa, check out these stories:
– An Oct. 25, 2006, story by Gazette business writer Rich Laden
– A Jan. 8, 2006, profile of the property by the Gazette’s Dave Philipps. It has some excellent history with great photos.
– A March 31, 2007, piece by Debbie Kelley of the Gazette.