T he city of Colorado Springs' plan to buy Red Rock Canyon came close to derailing Tuesday, after City Council members learned that tenant relocation costs and a lawsuit by anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce had driven up the price tag by about $1 million.
Still, a 5-3 majority of the Council gave final approval to the proposed deal, now estimated to cost $13.5 million.
The purchase, however, is being delayed and could be the city's last big open-space acquisition, if Bruce's lawsuit were to succeed.
In May, the Council voted unanimously to pursue an agreement to buy the 789-acre foothills property south of Highway 24 between Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. Home to scenic sandstone formations, trails, lakes and wildlife, the area is to be preserved as a public park.
Most of the money will come from the voter-approved 0.1-percent sales tax that funds the city's Trails, Parks and Open Space program, known as TOPS. However, Bruce has thrown the TOPS program into uncertainty by challenging the legality of a referendum held in April, in which city voters agreed to continue the trails, parks and open space tax through 2025.
Even if Bruce wins the lawsuit, the TOPS program would still have enough money to buy Red Rock Canyon, with between $6 million and $8 million left over for smaller parks and trails projects, said Terry Putman, the city's TOPS manager. However, that scenario has made the financing of the purchase more complicated, he said. As a result, the closing date has been moved from September to December.
The delay is also driving up costs. The Trust for Public Land, a national conservation group, has asked for an additional $250,000 to extend an option it holds on the Red Rock Canyon property. Acting as an intermediary between the city and the current property owner, Joan Bock, the Trust secured an option on the property last year, with the intent of reselling the land to the city.
Also adding to the original price tag is the estimated $733,000 cost of relocating some two-dozen tenants who live in mobile homes and houses on the property, and demolishing their homes.
Mayor Lionel Rivera and Councilmen Tom Gallagher and Darryl Glenn, who had previously backed the Red Rock Canyon purchase, switched their votes Tuesday in reaction to the price hike.
"I'd love to acquire it," Rivera said of the property, "but not at the additional cost."
If Bruce wins, the city would have very little money left over for other parks and trails, Rivera noted.
But council members Margaret Radford, Larry Small, Jerry Heimlicher, Randy Purvis and Scott Hente stuck with their previous votes. Vice Mayor Richard Skorman, who has worked for the Trust for Public Land, recused himself from voting.
"I'm just grateful I have an opportunity to be part of making this purchase," Radford said.
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