Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Speaking of conservation easements, what about BLR?

Posted By on Tue, May 17, 2016 at 8:47 AM

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The Strawberry Fields conservation easement — part of the city's land trade with The Broadmoor — isn't the only high profile parcel in Colorado Springs that involves the Palmer Land Trust.

In a Feb. 18 email sent to city Parks Department officials by PLT's executive director Rebecca Jewett, she declines an apparent verbal invitation to present at the Feb. 24 public meeting on the Strawberry Fields open space issue.
I was given clear instruction by the Land Committee today that, while they are very interested in continuing discussions about this project, it is not appropriate for Palmer to publicly represent the project at the meeting on 2/24. This is further reinforced by the fact that I cannot be present. It is fine for the City and Broadmoor to say you are in discussions with Palmer about a conservation easement, but it is simply not yet appropriate for us to speak publicly about something that the board has not approved.
Jewett, who was planning a trip out of town, goes on to say, "I'm happy to chat further about this or Banning Lewis before I leave."

Of course, it's no secret that the Jenkins family, owners of Nor'wood Development Group, which purchased the Banning Lewis Ranch in 2014, has thought about setting aside a bunch of the acreage for public use. As we reported in November 2014:
The Palmer Land Trust and the Trust for Public Land say they hope 12,000 of the 18,500 acres are set aside for trails, conservation and other public uses. One potential method of securing those acres into perpetuity, says Palmer Land Trust's executive director, Rebecca Jewett, is a conservation easement, which requires a landowner to sacrifice development rights in exchange for a tax credit that can be sold for cash, though certain restrictions apply.
The Banning Lewis Ranch has a rather complicated history, but the short version is that when Nor'wood bought the property, it assumed the position of previous owner Ultra Petroleum of Houston in a federal legal case about whether the 1988 annexation agreement can be set aside. (The agreement demands a lot of infrastructure investment by developers.) 

In June 2015, the court ruled in the city's favor, saying the agreement isn't a contract that can simply be set aside. After that, Nor'wood said it would appeal the decision, and it did.
Every few months, the city and developer check in with the court to let the judge know if they've reached some kind of negotiated settlement. So far, nope. According to the latest filing, the parties again want additional time. Read the joint motion here:

One might expect there to be some progress made, considering that Mayor John Suthers' Chief of Staff Jeff Greene has been holding weekly meetings on Banning Lewis Ranch since early March.

Meantime, Colorado Springs Utilities is preparing to go to court on May 23 over land in the ranch used for its Southern Delivery System pipeline project for which Nor'wood's owners feel they're owed more than an appraisal said is due.

As we previously reported, the city paid $117,500, or $802 per acre, into an account to take possession pending a value finding. Banning Lewis Holdings LLC, an entity controlled by Nor'wood chairman David Jenkins, contends the 121 acres at issue is worth $4.1 million to $6.4 million.

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