Friday, March 11, 2016

An inside look at Strawberry Fields

Posted By on Fri, Mar 11, 2016 at 1:04 PM

click to enlarge Getting started, we crossed what eventually is to be the Chamberlain Trail connection. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Getting started, we crossed what eventually is to be the Chamberlain Trail connection.

I have the best job in the world. Today, I dashed out of the office at 9:30 to meet up for what turned out to be a 90-minute walk through the endangered Strawberry Fields open space in the Cheyenne Canyon area.

I say endangered, because the city is on the verge of trading away this 189-acre parcel it's owned since 1885 to The Broadmoor, which plans a picnic pavilion and horse stable for about nine acres. The rest, so the city and The Broadmoor say, will be placed into a conservation easement through the Palmer Land Trust.

The swap is a lot more complicated than just that, so if you want the details, here's an explanation:

Former Vice Mayor Richard Skorman, who also has chaired served on the Parks Advisory Board and Trails Open Space and Parks Working Committee, opposes the swap. He's been giving guided tours of about 30 acres of Strawberry Fields, twice a day, since Wednesday to show people what the city wants to give up. Skorman, who lives in that area of the city, has hiked the property hundreds of times.

click to enlarge Soon, the trail takes you to a pretty marvelous view of the Front Range. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Soon, the trail takes you to a pretty marvelous view of the Front Range.

On this day, the tour drew 13 people, a baby and four dogs. After hiking a short way onto the property from Alta Vista Road, Skorman stopped to display below us a large meadow, which he suspects will be the nine acres The Broadmoor wants to carve out for itself.

Suspects, that is, because there's been no map made to show the public where the resort will develop, what it will develop or when it will develop. So it's all guesswork. He says city officials tell him the resort doesn't want to invest a bunch of money in engineering and design documents until it knows it has the land.

click to enlarge Richard Skorman points to the rolling meadow from which Strawberry Fields gets its name. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Richard Skorman points to the rolling meadow from which Strawberry Fields gets its name.

"We don't know what the building envelop will be," Skorman says, adding The Broadmoor and city is promising to release it at the end of March, two weeks before the Parks Board is due to vote on a recommendation to City Council. Council, in turn, will vote sometime in May, Skorman thinks.

And that's a "backward way" of doing things, Skorman says. the Cheyenne Canon master plan hasn't been updated since 2003, he says, suggesting the plan get an overhaul — including use of Strawberry Fields — based on public input on how that property should be used. Then, he says, if citizens think it's a good idea to sell it or trade it, then OK.

"We're the largest city with the most mountain backdrop in the country," Skorman says. But most of the wildland urban interface is under restricted ownership, such as the Air Force Academy, Queen's Canyon, Williams Canyon, Ruxton Canyon, Mountain Shadows, Cedar Heights and Skyway.

"There's just not the public access there ought to be," he says. "We have this incredible wildland urban interface, but we don't have control over most of it." Which is a good argument to not place yet another parcel into private hands, he argues.

click to enlarge With the meadow in the background, Skorman makes his pitch for why the city should retain control and ownership of the open space. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • With the meadow in the background, Skorman makes his pitch for why the city should retain control and ownership of the open space.

As we walk down a ravine and then come up over a hill closer to the meadow, one woman bursts into song: "The hills are alive with the sound of music."

Another woman on the hike confides that she's been researching Philip Anschutz, owner of The Broadmoor and the Gazette, which has endorsed the trade. She's found that Anschutz doesn't give interviews; hence, much of what he's said has come through other people, she notes, but she did find one interesting quote. "The source of all wealth is land," she recites, noting Anschutz is reportedly the 17th largest private landowner in the nation.

Skorman told his fellow hikers that he'll get 10 minutes to present his position at a public meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at Broadmoor Community Church. Broadmoor CEO Jack Damioli, Parks Director Karen Palus and Lee Wolfe, all advocates for the swap, will get only five minutes each, after which they will field questions.

"I can't tell you how upset I've been, having been a former Council member, how fast this process is moving, and how little opportunity the public has had to weigh in," he says. "In all my public service, I've never seen something so one-sided" with the city staff, and Mayor John Suthers, establishing their position in favor of the swap prior to any public input.

click to enlarge A spectacular view. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • A spectacular view.

Some who took the hike raised a few good questions, to which we don't have the answers, but they're worth pondering:

• Does the city have to obtain voter approval to trade Strawberry Fields? It had to get voter permission to lease Memorial Hospital to the University of Colorado Health. If placed on the April 2017 ballot, the city wouldn't incur any additional cost of an election, like it would if the measure is placed on the November 2016 ballot.

• What endangered species or threatened species reside on Strawberry Fields that will be disrupted by development of a portion of it?

• Along with that, would it be a good idea to conduct an environmental study of impacts on the property of The Broadmoor's planned use, whatever that might be.

• Where will the horses go on the rides from the Strawberry Fields stable?

If you'd like to join a tour, they continue through Sunday March 22 at 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. departing from Sacred Grounds Coffee Shop, 1801 Cheyenne Blvd. No need to sign up early. Just show up.

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