A movement born of the Strawberry Fields land swap approved by City Council on May 24 is seeking to gather signatures to mount a ballot measure that would bar disposal of Colorado Springs' city park land without a vote of the people.
The group, led by former Vice Mayor Richard Skorman, presented a proposed petition to the City Clerk's Office on Tuesday. If approved, petitioners would need to gather roughly 15,200 signatures of registered city voters within about six weeks to qualify for the April 4 city election ballot.
Dubbed POPS — Protect Our Parks, the measure calls for amending the City Charter "to forever protect all parkland from sale or trade without a vote of the people of Colorado Springs."
The measure could impact the city's deal to trade 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space in North Cheyenne Cañon to The Broadmoor for about 400 acres of wilderness and trails easements.
Save Cheyenne, a nonprofit formed amid the land-swap debate, filed suit against the city in August attempting to block the swap, arguing that Strawberry Fields was acquired as parkland by the city in 1885 after a vote of the people.
The case is pending, and Skorman said Save Cheyenne, if need be, will ask a judge to suspend closing the Strawberry Fields deal pending the ballot measure's outcome. "If we have to, we'll seek an injunction," Skorman says. "We've heard they're trying to accelerate the deal."
The Broadmoor plans to convert about nine acres of Strawberry Fields' meadow into a picnic pavilion and stable operation for its guests; the resort would allow public access to the remainder.
Skorman says backers plan to use volunteers and paid petition circulators because of the short time frame. "That's a pretty daunting task," he says.
Besides requiring a vote of the people to liquidate park land, the measure calls for the city to report to voters 90 days prior to an election an independent appraisal of any land proposed for sale or trade based on intended use. The city also would have to complete a master plan if one hasn't been done within 10 years, among other things.
The provisions are similar to those already required of land acquired using the Trails Open Space and Parks sales tax money.
To skeptics, Skorman says, "I think there's a misperception that this isn't really needed. When you think about not just Strawberry Fields but all the other times that elected officials tried to trade away Section 16 [open space], wanted Stratton Open Space to be developed ... there were officials that wanted Red Rock Canyon [Open Space] to be developed.
"There are definitely properties out in the parks system that could be vulnerable in the future. We want to protect every park, not just Strawberry Fields."