Thursday, May 19, 2016

Sierra Club opposes city-Broadmoor land swap

Posted By on Thu, May 19, 2016 at 10:49 AM

click to enlarge The city's Strawberry Fields open space has become the most controversial component of the land swap. - COURTESY MIKE DORSEY
  • Courtesy Mike Dorsey
  • The city's Strawberry Fields open space has become the most controversial component of the land swap.
With time running out before City Council will vote on Tuesday on the city Parks Department's proposal to trade city land for property owned by The Broadmoor, it's worth noting that the Sierra Club's local chapter has issued a letter opposing the trade.

Meantime, the Trails and Open Space Coalition has not changed its position of conditional approval, and in fact the most recent update on its website on this issue was posted on April 20. Find that update here.

Among the TOSC's conditions is a conservation easement. We wrote about that mechanism in this week's Independent.

Meantime, a meeting dedicated exclusively to opponents will be held 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.

Here's the Sierra Club's letter:
Dear City Council Members:

On behalf of the Pikes Peak Group of the Sierra Club, I wish to raise a number of questions which we believe must be clarified before City Council can make an informed decision on the proposed Broadmoor Land Swap. Because your decision on May 24th will be the final action by Council, after which the entire exchange would go forward without your further oversight or approval, it is not appropriate to decide this matter until the terms, conditions, and consequences of the land exchange are clearly known. We therefore strongly oppose the exchange proposal.

1. Is it appropriate for the Broadmoor to retain “PK Public Parks” zoning for property it owns, controls, and uses principally for the benefit and enjoyment of its guests and paying customers?
According to the City Code, the PK-Public Parks zoning classification “is intended for land set aside for use as public recreation and open space.” (§7.3.402(B)) The term “Public Park and Recreational Services” is defined in the Code’s definition of land use types and classifications as “Publicly owned and operated parks, playgrounds, recreation facilities and open spaces.” (§7.2.302(D) (13)) We note that this portion of the Code contains separate classifications for “commercial recreation” (§ 7.2.302(C)(30)) and “commercial stable” operations (§ 7.2.302(H)(5) which are defined to include activities similar to those permitted in a “public park” zone. It is therefore not clear that the Code envisions a privately-owned public park or that this continues to be the proper zoning classification once the City divests itself of ownership and the power to operate what was formerly a public park.

2. To what extent will the public be able to use the portion of Strawberry Hill parcel from which it will not be totally excluded?
The information regarding future public access to the Strawberry Hill parcel which has been provided to date is clearly conflicting. The Draft Resolution states that the Broadmoor “shall allow free and open public access to all of City Property 1 and City Property 2 except the building envelope.” However, the Draft Resolution also gives the Broadmoor management rights “including but not limited” to promulgating rules and regulations and enforcing such rules and regulations for the protection of natural resources and to deter inappropriate and illegal behavior. The City website continues to refer to the Broadmoor’s creation of a “future trail system” open to the public. The Broadmoor’s representations at various public meetings and Council sessions, including the April 25th session, likewise make it clear that the Broadmoor pledges only to permit public access (under such conditions as it, as private owner of the land, may choose to impose) to such trails as it may choose to construct. This is consistent with the Broadmoor’s grant of nothing more than “trail easements” for the Chamberlain, Hully Gully, and South Canon trail corridors. It would make no sense for a landowner to grant an easement for a particular use over a particular portion of the property if the owner in fact intended to allow “free and open access” to the remainder of the parcel for that same use. A question naturally arises as to what would happen if the Broadmoor were to elect to construct few or no additional trails, or if it were to construct more trails, but impose stringent restrictions on their use. The Broadmoor clearly has plans to develop the property for equestrian use, and therefore can be expected to construct some bridle trails on the parcel beyond the building envelope. However, it has also expressed an interest in using the Strawberry Hill parcel to create a “Five Star” resort experience for its guests. All that the public can know for certain is that it being asked to give up the “free and open public access” which it presently enjoys in exchange for a vague promise of future access, with unknown restrictions, to an undescribed set of trails which the Broadmoor may choose to construct for the use and enjoyment of its guests and paying customers.
We note that according to the City’s April 25th presentation, the Strawberry Hill site and master planning process will occur only after Council has given final approval to the land exchange. The City’s presentation states that the Broadmoor will “prepare” the draft master plan and “respond” to public comments. The Broadmoor’s only obligation seems to be to propose a plan that complies with the conservation easement and deed restrictions. This process is completely different from the usual master planning process for publicly-owned property, by which City officials and employees develop a plan with public input from the outset. A question naturally arises as to what will happen in the case of an impasse regarding the plan. If the Broadmoor proposes a plan deemed unacceptable to the City or the public, it is not clear that there is any way by which it could be required to make changes to allow additional public access. Although the City could refuse to allow activities inconsistent with the PK zoning classification, it is not clear that it could require the Broadmoor to allow other activities permissible within this classification. We note that the City proposes to retain only a right of first refusal in the event that the land is sold, not a right of reversion. Since the City proposes to grant the property to the Broadmoor with a favorable zoning classification and is transferring it at a highly discounted value based on that zoning, it is crucial that the City retain an enforceable means of assuring that the property continues to be in fact, as well as in zoning nomenclature, a “public park.”

3. To what extent do the land appraisals reflect actual value to community?
Assuming that the appraisals done to date comply with standard valuation protocols, the fact remains that the City in effect is paying the Broadmoor full “fair market value” for the Bear Creek parcel based on its suitability for residential development, even though the City will use the property for parkland; whereas the City is valuing the Strawberry Hills parcel as parkland, even though the Broadmoor plans to use a portion of it exclusively for commercial activities, and even though the remainder of the parcel will also host, and be essential to, those same commercial activities.

4. What are the cost impacts of acquiring ownership of the land parcel containing the Barr Trail and the Manitou Incline?
Although the City has expended a large amount of funds to repair and maintain the Incline, it has no legal obligation to do so in the future. The Intergovernmental Agreement between Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs states that it is terminable at the will of either party and that “neither party is obligated to appropriate or expend any funds to meet its obligations.” Acquisition of ownership of the land parcel therefore may cause the City to incur additional responsibilities. We note that the Incline was plagued with washouts and rock slides throughout its operating history, and that within 20 years of its closure in 1990, it required upwards of $4 million in restoration work. Has City staff prepared an analysis of the future costs of maintaining the Incline and of the legal and financial impacts of becoming its owner?

Finally, we would like to point out that it has been a very frustrating process for members of the public who want to become informed in this matter. Crucial information has been withheld by City officials or released at the eleventh hour after citizens complained. This matter has therefore become not only a question of open space, but also of open public process.
Although the most prominent dispute in this regard has focused on the City’s withholding of the land appraisals, other information has also been withheld or omitted. For example, as of this date, the City informational webpage “Barr Trail and Manitou Incline” makes no mention of the proposed Emerald Valley land exchange, whereby the Broadmoor would grant a permanent Barr Trail easement to the Forest Service. It thereby implies that City acquisition of the parcel is essential to protect a trail corridor which the Broadmoor is willing and intending to protect by other means. We note that this City webpage implies that nothing less than total public ownership is sufficient to protect public access rights to the Barr Trail and Incline, whereas the “North Cheyenne Canon Park/Strawberry Hill” page implies that easements and a non-specific pledge of future public access are sufficient.
To date, all public meetings regarding the land exchange have been orchestrated by City staff, who have focused on the City’s view that the land exchange is a “win-win” situation, or have been merely “listening sessions” at which the public was given only a short time to speak. This Thursday at City Hall from 6 to 8 p.m. Councilman Bill Murray has arranged a town hall meeting at which the opponents of the exchange will be given a full opportunity to present their side of the controversy. We urge you to attend and listen to these presentations.


James E. Lockhart, Conservation Chair
Pikes Peak Sierra Club Group

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