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Someone needs to speak to the Board of County Commissioners about their unfortunate sense of timing.

On Monday, the four reliables -- Tom Huffman, Chuck Brown, Duncan Bremer and Ed Jones -- bulldozed ahead with a vote that would in essence give Dan Potter the kind of Christmas present every developer dreams of: the right to condemn private property and use it to pave his road to riches.

Potter, owner of King's Deer development company, has been maneuvering for well over a year to get approval to build a road through the Black Forest Regional Park to his planned luxury housing subdivision, Cathedral Pines.

In July 2001, county commissioners flashed Potter the green light for that plan. But the County was stymied when a coalition of vocal opponents, the Friends of the Black Forest, filed a lawsuit to block the road through the park, which the County once deemed the "crown jewel" of its park system.

The Friends of the Black Forest prevailed; the County has since appealed.

This week's move would allow Potter to pave part of his road along the western boundary of the Black Forest park, north of Colorado Springs. It also sets in motion a mechanism where reluctant private property owners would have their landholdings condemned and seized through eminent domain, all for Potter. The rest of his road would still continue on through the county park to the subdivision.

The latest maneuver came with no warning and no notice, and, with approximately 12 property owners scrambling to understand what has hit them. It also opens the floodgates for more litigation. Colorado Springs attorney Ken Sparks, appearing before the commissioners, termed the move a violation of the Colorado Constitution.

"I don't think anybody even spent 37 cents for a letter to tell them they were condemning the land," said Jim Lockhart, president of the local chapter of the Sierra Club who, like other Black Forest park supporters, learned of the proposal the day before it was set for a vote.

"We had no idea," said an outraged Gary Schinderle, a spokesman for the Friends of the Black Forest.

At Monday's public hearing, state Rep.-elect Michael Merrifield told the commissioners he literally spilled his coffee when he read about the out-of-the-blue plan. The commissioners merely chuckled.

"It's an interesting, out-of-nowhere abuse of power," said Kathy Lane, who has been active with the Friends of the Black Forest. "It's really shocking."

The predictability of the commissioners' far-from-"coincidental" voting bloc -- and their secrecy -- is getting downright tiresome.

This latest sweet deal was made just a month before oral arguments are scheduled to be heard on the appeal of the Friends of the Black Forest lawsuit.

It was sealed just weeks before Commissioners Bremer and Jones are term-limited from office; Jones to head to Denver as a newly elected state senator and Bremer to return to daily life as an attorney, with excellent connections and all sorts of potential clients.

And, it was done just before the holidays -- ostensibly when no one would be paying attention.

Except for one small glitch: The commissioners' gift to Potter also came just two days after a group of angry citizens announced plans for a tea party of sorts, designed to oust Huffman and Brown.

The group, Together for Effective Alternatives (TEA), faces the arduous task of collecting, over 60 days, a total of 30,000 required signatures to force a recall election.

The driving force behind their effort is the county's recent approval of a courthouse and jail -- a plan that opponents argue was also done covertly. As a result, they note, El Paso County taxpayers have been stuck with $156 million in long-term debt and massive cuts in the county's public-health programs, parks programs and mass transit. The group's Web site is www.recallcommissioners.com.

Observers can't help but note the similarities between the secrecy of the courthouse/jail deal and this week's endorsement of the road to Potterville.

"It's an interesting mirror of some of the stuff going on with the courthouse," noted Lane, of the Friends of the Black Forest.

"There's a lot that's happening that seems to be being decided behind closed doors, and they shouldn't be doing it that way," said Jim Alice Scott, a longtime watchdog of county government.

To that, we can only dust off words that have come back to haunt us. In April 2001, developer Potter vowed to fight to the end. "The road will get built, no matter who likes it or not," he said.

With these four Santas perched on their thrones, it looks like Potter's wish might come true.

-- degette@csindy.com

  • Cara DeGette on the road to Potterville

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