What's the rush? and Why not have a ballot measure to decide?
Those were among the questions raised Monday night by opponents of the city's plan to trade 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor, which wants to use seven to nine acres of the property for a horse stable and picnic pavilion for its guests.
Proposed in January in a news release calling it an "exciting opportunity," the deal would give the city 370 acres located along the Manitou Incline and Barr Trail, as well as around Mount Muscoco and other places. When people voiced objections, the city set up a media tour of some of the proposed properties and scheduled several public meetings.
One of those public meetings was hosted by City Councilor Keith King
Monday night at Broadmoor Community Church, where more than 140 people crowded into a meeting room to hear a panel discuss the land swap: Parks Director Karen Palus, resident Lee Wolfe, Broadmoor CEO Jack Damioli and former vice mayor and open space advocate Richard Skorman
. Only Skorman opposes the deal.
But plenty in the audience oppose it also, judging from audience reaction. When Skorman suggested the people decide through an election, cheers and applause erupted. He noted the city conducted an election to lease city-owned Memorial Hospital to University of Colorado Health, which passed; it also held an election when a proposal was brought forward to sell city assets, including City Auditorium, which failed. If the city ever wants to sell a part of Colorado Springs Utilities, an election must take place and a majority of ratepayers must approve the sale.
Since the land trade was originally proposed, it's morphed somewhat, most notably with The Broadmoor agreeing to place a conservation easement on Strawberry Fields, except for the stable and picnic area.
Wolfe noted the Parks Department has "spent no money" taking care of Strawberry Fields and doesn't have money to do so. "The Broadmoor would do a better job of taking care of this property," he said.
Damioli noted the resort will restrict access to only 5 percent of Strawberry Fields and will allow the Chamberlain Trail
to traverse the property. Horse rides will be conducted only on the 189-acre open space and not lap over into other public property, he said.
"The totality of the trade is what people should take a good look at," Damioli said.
Skorman presented a video, available here
, and noted that so far The Broadmoor hasn't revealed any specific plans for the open space. "The whole problem with this is that we don't understand what's going to happen up there," he said. "They haven't released any concept plan for this at all." That means it's conjecture where the stable and picnic area will be, although it's assumed they will occupy Strawberry Fields' prime meadow.
Skorman said some kind of plan apparently is to be released on March 30, with the Parks Advisory Board set to vote on the issue two weeks later. It would be better, he said, if the city updated the Cheyenne Cañon master plan to determine how the property is to be used, and then see if The Broadmoor's plans fit into that.
During citizen questions, Broadmoor attorney Kyle Hybl noted the resort is a good partner and reminded it's a partner in the Manitou Incline by virtue of its ownership of land upon which the Incline sits. The land swap would place that land in the city's hands.
Some at the meeting thought that sounded like the preface to an ultimatum, of sorts, that if the land swap didn't go through, The Broadmoor could close the Incline due to its ownership interest.
No, no, no, Hybl tells the Independent
in an interview. "No matter what happens, the [Manitou and Pikes Peak] Railway and The Broadmoor are committed to the partnership on the Incline," Hybl said. The railway is owned by The Broadmoor. "The Broadmoor is fully committed to continuing with the parties [to the incline agreement] no matter what happens in this situation."
Hybl continued: "What I think is important from the larger picture is, the various trades that will take place actually increase trails and open space in Colorado Springs. It brings certainty to agreements that are currently not permanent, and it ensures sound stewardship of that area of Strawberry Fields that will be managed by The Broadmoor, the vast majority of which would be under a conservation easement."
He also noted that one of his favorite trails in the upper reaches of Strawberry Fields is labeled the New York Times
trail, because of a newspaper stand that's been disposed of there.
If you're interested in reading the agreement regarding the Incline property, here's a copy provided by Hybl.
Open space advocate Kent Obee came armed with a valuation of the land-swap parcels based on county assessor data, which shows The Broadmoor would received twice the dollar value as the city, which directly contradicts the city's contention.
On March 30, the city will host another public meeting, at 6 p.m. at Gold Camp Elementary, 1805 Preserve Drive, where formal appraisal results will be released, Palus said.