A lingering dispute over Strawberry Fields, the 189-acre, city-owned open space traded to The Broadmoor with a City Council vote on May 24, made its way this week to District Court for the second time.
Save Cheyenne, a nonprofit formed amid the earlier debate over the land swap, filed suit this summer alleging the swap should have been submitted to voters for approval. The city and The Broadmoor disagree, and their motions to dismiss are pending.
This week, Save Cheyenne filed suit a second time, asking a judge to allow its Protect our Parks (POPs) initiative to include a clause making voter approval of park land trades and sales retroactive to May 1, 2016. The city's Title Review Board rejected that provision on Nov. 4.
Richard Skorman, the open space advocate and former vice mayor who heads Save Cheyenne, says the group won't ask City Council this week to refer the ballot measure to voters. "We will see what the District Court says first," he says.
If the court allows for a retroactive clause, the group could proceed with gathering the needed 15,202 signatures. To make the April 4 city ballot, ample signatures would need to be submitted by Jan. 4. Or, Save Cheyenne could take longer to collect signatures, which would force a special election estimated to cost taxpayers about $350,000. While the group wants to avoid that cost, Skorman didn't rule out the possibility.
If the court rejects the retroactive clause, Save Cheyenne might ask Council, and Council might agree, to refer the ballot question to voters on its own authority because the controversial Strawberry Fields tract would be eliminated from the formula. Then again, Skorman says, "If we can't get Strawberry Fields included [in the POPs measure], we might not put it on the ballot."
That would mean Save Cheyenne would place all its hopes on its first lawsuit, which argues a vote of the people is necessary to convert city ownership of land dedicated as park land. Strawberry Fields was purchased by the city in 1885 after a vote of the people approving the move.
Mayor John Suthers, whose administration negotiated the deal and told the public of it in a Jan. 14 news release, opposes a ballot measure. The land swap resulted in the city getting more than 400 acres of trails, trail easements and wilderness property in exchange for the open space and a half-acre tract at the base of the Manitou Incline. The Broadmoor plans a stable and picnic area on 8.5 acres, with the rest accessible to the public through a conservation easement.