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From oaks to adobes 

Open-space candidate threatened with development

click to enlarge Chris Dye is working to preserve some of the land pictured behind her. - SUNNIE SACKS
  • Sunnie Sacks
  • Chris Dye is working to preserve some of the land pictured behind her.

When Chris Dye bought her house in northwest Colorado Springs a year ago, her real-estate agent told her the city planned to preserve the land behind her lot as open space.

The view from Dye's back porch, which overlooks a small valley with native grasses, wildflowers and mature scrub oaks, was a main reason why she bought the house.

Now, a developer plans to turn the 15-acre area south of the Oak Valley neighborhood off Allegheny Drive into a 52-lot subdivision. The Geo-Tech Corporation, based in La Veta, Colo., calls its proposed development the "Santa Fe" subdivision and plans to fill it with faux adobe-style single-family homes.

And as it turns out, the city has never been all that keen on saving the area as open space.

"It's not really a candidate" for preservation, said Terry Putman, manager of the city's open-space program.

That's not deterring Dye and others in her neighborhood, who have launched a coalition to try to save the land -- or as much of it as they can. The coalition has set up a Web site, oakvalleyopenspace.com, and has scheduled a meeting with the developer to discuss purchasing the land.

"The more we can save, the better," Dye said.

Teeming with birds

To be sure, the area locals call the "Oak Valley Open Space" is listed as a candidate for preservation in both the city's comprehensive plan and its open-space plan.

But another document, the Oak Valley Master Plan, designates most of the site for "research and development."

Putman says a previous owner asked the city to buy and preserve the land two years ago, but that the application was rejected. The area is isolated and has few of the resources that characterize high-priority open spaces, such as wildlife, vegetation, aesthetical value or riparian habitat, he said.

"It really shouldn't have qualified for the open-space plan" in the first place, Putman said.

On a recent sunny afternoon, however, the area teemed with birds, including goldfinches, Steller's jays, magpies and chickadees, flittering among the scrub oaks.

Some of the oaks reach 30 feet in height, and a natural drainage through the property attracts many animals, Dye says.

"There's elk, there's deer, there's a coyote den," she said. "There's just so much wildlife."

As for the land being isolated, Dye points out that social trails across the property connect with the Oak Valley neighborhood park to the east. To the west, the trails lead across another private, undeveloped property to connect with the Pike National Forest.

The city also recently agreed to purchase another open-space property surrounded by development, Union Meadows. Kent Obee, chairman of the city's open-space working committee, says such "neighborhood open spaces" are becoming increasingly important.

Program in limbo

But even if the city were willing to buy the land, its open-space program doesn't have the money right now, Obee said. The program, funded through a special sales tax twice approved by city voters, is in limbo due to a lawsuit filed by local anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce. Bruce claims that a referendum in April, in which voters agreed to continue the tax, was illegal.

Members of the Oak Valley neighborhood say they may look for other ways to acquire and protect the land. The president of GeoTech, Kalima Masse, says she's willing to discuss a sale. Masse bought the land two years ago from the University of Colorado Foundation, for $120,000.

"The price is a very big issue," Masse said. "I can't give it away."

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