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City studies financial impacts of developing the Banning Lewis Ranch 

Growing the city

click to enlarge A new study looks at fiscal impacts of developing the Banning Lewis Ranch. - FILE PHOTO
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  • A new study looks at fiscal impacts of developing the Banning Lewis Ranch.

The massive Banning Lewis Ranch, fallow for nearly 30 years due to an oppressive annexation agreement, might see some activity soon in light of a new study ordered by the city to determine costs of serving the 18,500-acre expanse.

The city contracted in August for a financial impact study by TischlerBise, Inc., located in Bethesda, Maryland, and Bradenton, Florida, a firm well versed in analyzing fiscal impacts on cities and counties.

It's likely the city would use the study's results to determine the size of impact fees required to make development feasible. A city review in 2007 set that figure at $11,910 per acre. The ranch was annexed in 1988 under an agreement that requires developers to fund everything from streets to police and fire stations to drainage facilities, a bill pegged at roughly $1 billion. Developers have long complained of the onerous agreement, which they say has paralyzed development.

The sprawling property has changed hands several times. After a California company declared bankruptcy in 2010, Oakwood Homes bought a small tract at auction in 2011, and Houston-based Ultra Resources bought the rest for $20 million. After testing for oil and gas proved a long shot, Ultra sold it in November 2014 for about $28 million to David Jenkins, chairman of Nor'wood Development Group, the region's largest developer, though Ultra retains mineral rights.

It's unclear how the possibility of future resource mining might impact development and the city's deal with Nor'wood should Ultra ever exercise its rights.

Jenkins continued Ultra's dispute with the city in bankruptcy court over the annexation agreement, but in June 2015 suffered a setback when a federal judge ruled the annexation agreement isn't a contract and can't be set aside. Since then, Jenkins and the city have been negotiating the annexation agreement. The TischlerBise contract is the latest maneuver in that effort. The firm's scope of services, which defines the types of analyses to be done, includes:

• Estimates of economic and fiscal impacts based on conservative, moderate and aggressive development projections in terms of jobs, income for those jobs and spending; how much sales tax, property tax and other revenue will flow to the city, and how much will be needed to serve Banning Lewis. The study also forecasts so-called "spin off" impacts of indirect and induced impacts.

• Estimates of impacts to city enterprises, including Memorial Health System, parks, Colorado Springs Utilities and the airport.

• A "working model" that can be used for future analysis by city staff.

• Estimates of negative impacts of growth occurring outside city boundaries, presumably because the city fears if the ranch isn't developed, that might push builders to the city's outskirts.

According to the contract, TischlerBise was to meet with Nor'wood "to ascertain the future development planned for the area, including the likely staging of future development." From that, TischlerBise will develop demand factors, including persons per household, jobs arising from commercial and industrial development, consumer spending and the like.

City Council recently heard a briefing of TischlerBise's report in a closed executive session. The city refused to release the report in response to the Independent's records request, citing a Colorado Open Records Act provision that allows draft reports to be labeled "work product" and be withheld from the public.

But the city says in its letter denying access that it "anticipates that the report will be finalized and made available on November 16."

As of mid-September, the city had paid the firm $21,082 on the $35,080 contract.

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