Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Save Cheyenne threatens to sue city over land swap

Posted By on Tue, May 10, 2016 at 2:13 PM

click to enlarge Richard Skorman on a hike in Strawberry Fields in March. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Richard Skorman on a hike in Strawberry Fields in March.
Richard Skorman, president of Save Cheyenne, a nonprofit set up to oppose the city's planned land swap with The Broadmoor, told City Council today the group will go to court to try to stop the exchange.

"We’re serious," he said. "We don’t think you have the legal authority to pass this deal on May 24. We’re going to court, and we’re going to see where that lands."

Previous speakers, attorneys Steve Price and Bill Louis, said state law indicates that because 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space was acquired by the city after a public vote approving it in 1885, the people must again be consulted.

The City Attorney's Office disagrees, saying the trade — for various trail easement land and rugged wilderness property owned by The Broadmoor — doesn't require a public vote, and that the city's home-rule powers exempt it from abiding by state law.

Skorman said Save Cheyenne doesn't want to go to court, but something needs to happen to delay the process.

"People in the outdoor community are fighting with one another," he said. "It’s terrible. Let’s delay it. Let’s all sit down at the table and work out something that’s good for the public and The Broadmoor. There’s nothing compelling us to do it quickly. But there’s no way to stop this train. We’ve been trying and trying and trying. I’m here to plead with you don’t move this forward. You don’t have enough community buy in yet."
click to enlarge Mayor John Suthers tells Council that The Broadmoor land swap is a golden opportunity. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Mayor John Suthers tells Council that The Broadmoor land swap is a golden opportunity.

Citizens filled City Council chambers Monday night for a 3.5-hour public meeting regarding the city's proposed land swap with The Broadmoor.

Mayor John Suthers spoke to Council for the first time publicly about the exchange, urging support and noting The Broadmoor's ability to improve the 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space if it gets possession of it. 

He said the resort would make the property "much more pristine than it is today" by conducting fire mitigation and erosion control, building trails and planting native vegetation. He also said he'd been mayor "for a month or two" when Broadmoor Chairman Steve Bartolin approached him about building a stable near Seven Falls, owned by The Broadmoor, which is owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz.

While the stables and a picnic pavilion are planned for eight to nine acres of Strawberry Fields, owned by the city since citizens approved a ballot measure to buy it in 1885, Suthers emphasized the rest will be open for public use.
click to enlarge John Spengler greeted citizens arriving at City Hall with his thoughts on a poster. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • John Spengler greeted citizens arriving at City Hall with his thoughts on a poster.
Suthers also disclosed The Broadmoor's annual taxes, on both sales and property, total $5,838,950. Of that, according to El Paso County tax records, $1,743,172 is property tax. That means the difference, $4,095,778, is sales tax, presumably. (It's worth noting the city has consistently refused to disclose a specific business's sales tax receipts, calling the information proprietary. So presumably, The Broadmoor gave Suthers permission to release it's sales tax information. It's unclear whether the amounts cited by Suthers include all taxes — those paid to the state and county and other taxing entities, but it would appear to be all inclusive.)

"It's not a bad thing to have a five-star resort in our community," Suthers told Council.

The exchange, which would give the city over 600 acres of "strategic property" for trails and the Manitou Incline, means The Broadmoor would be in a position to attract more people to its facilities, he said.

That could mean more revenue for the city and more jobs.

Asked by Councilor Bill Murray what he thinks of submitting the Strawberry Fields component to voters, Suthers said he supports state law and city code and that anything that doesn't have to go to voters should not be submitted to voters. The City Attorney's Office has said the trade doesn't have to have voter approval.

Councilor Tom Strand noted that the land swap has generated more citizen feedback than any other issue during his 13 months in office. He asked Suthers how he planned to "heal the community" after a decision is made. (Council is due to vote on May 24.)

Suthers said opponents of the swap will feel differently about the deal after they observe The Broadmoor's care of the property. "It's only a matter of time," he said.
click to enlarge A solemn group showed up for the Council hearing on the land exchange. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • A solemn group showed up for the Council hearing on the land exchange.
Councilor Don Knight asked if Suthers would include $1.5 million in his budget annually to have money available to buy back Strawberry Fields if The Broadmoor decides it wants to sell. The land swap resolution includes giving the city first right of refusal to buy the property for the appraised value.

Suthers didn't answer the question, but rather noted, "This is not going to be converted to another use from a conservation easement."

After 90 minutes of presentation by the city and The Broadmoor, both of whom support the swap, supporters were given an hour to speak, and opponents were given an hour. Seventeen citizens spoke in favor, and 20 against.

Several speakers said they support the trade, because The Broadmoor will do a better job of caring for the land than the city has done. 

An opponent who didn't speak was Charles Rollman, who's previously notified Council he opposes the swap. Here's a portion of his email to Council sent at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, after he left:
I was at tonight’s Town Hall meeting.
I don’t know how you guys do it.
I sat there for an hour and a half and just couldn’t face the prospect of waiting through another hour of advocates’ remarks before getting to the meat of the arguments from those opposed. I picked up and came home after Jack Damioli’s [Broadmoor's CEO] presentation.

I’m angrier now than I was when I arrived.

I now see a path by which Strawberry Fields, or Hill, could be sold for development.
The scenario is that the Broadmoor gets sold to one of the New York management companies that Mr Damioli mentioned.
This changes the mindset of the Broadmoor management.
Then Strawberry Fields is put up for sale, and the city hasn’t the funds to exercise its first refusal right.
Even a very slim possibility of this happening is a violation of trust.

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