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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Land swap approved by 6-3 vote

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2016 at 7:55 PM

click to enlarge Cards urging a "no" vote were held by dozens of opponents at Tuesday's City Council meeting. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Cards urging a "no" vote were held by dozens of opponents at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

Colorado Springs City Council voted 6-3 Tuesday evening to approve a land swap with The Broadmoor after hours of public comment on the long-debated issue of trading away the city's 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space in exchange for 371 acres of trail easements, wilderness property and other property owned by the resort.

Opposing the measure were Councilors Bill Murray, Helen Collins and Jill Gaebler.

Councilors Merv Bennett, Keith King, Don Knight, Andy Pico, Larry Bagley and Tom Strand voted in favor.

At least a dozen supporters urged Council to approve the proposal, some acknowledging that opponents had strengthened the deal. Opposition led the city to require a permanent conservation easement be placed on Strawberry Fields, only 9 acres of which The Broadmoor plans to fence and use for a picnic pavilion and stable. The rest will be owned by the resort but be open for public use.

The Broadmoor also agreed to conduct fire mitigation, build trails and install erosion control on the entire tract.

Among supporters was Doug Price, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention and Tourism Bureau, who said the stable and pavilion would enable The Broadmoor to attract more guests, thereby enhancing the area's economic development.

Rebecca Jewett, who heads the Palmer Land Trust, which will hold the conservation easement, promised the easement was highly unlikely to ever be changed.

"We’re in the business of permanently conserving land," Jewett said. "The terms of an easement will dictate when and how it can be amended at all. If we look at change it’s always in enhancing preservation."

Broadmoor President and CEO Jack Damioli noted supporters include the Trails and Open Space Coalition, Pikes Peak Lodging Association, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, Colorado Springs Forward, El Pomar Foundation, Parks Advisory Board, Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs. Mayor John Suthers also supports the measure and lobbied the Parks Advisory Board for approval.

Numerous supporters said The Broadmoor would take better care of the property than the city has, and that makes it a win for everyone.

But opposition leader Richard Skorman reminded Council the proposal comes with a commercial operation for 100 people. "This is really a special place," he said. "You're going to give away a place that is precious because we can't maintain it now."

Skorman said the open space wouldn't be on the table today if we had enough money to maintain our parks. "Then let's do it. People love their parks," he said, offering to help with a ballot initiative to raise taxes for open spaces.

"I implore you, don't give it away," Skorman said.

Open space advocate Kent Obee said, "I would ask you to send it back to the Parks Department and try to get these parcels you really want through TOPS (Trails and Open Space and Parks)." 

Former El Paso County Commissioner Jim Bensberg told of a plan in 2007 to make Corral Bluffs out east a motorcycle course, but so much pushback from citizens led commissioners to abandon the idea. That experience, he said, taught him this lesson: "Just because you can doesn't mean you should."

Attorney Bill Louis, representing the opponents' group, Save Cheyenne, said the group plans to challenge the Council decision in court based on a public vote in 1885 that dedicated the property to public ownership.

Councilor Keith King, who represents the Broadmoor area, made the motion to approve the deal, noting the resolution spells out many conditions the resort must meet. "This cannot go forward until all the conditions take place," King said, listing all the conditions in the resolution.

City Attorney Wynetta Massey told Council that dedication of property doesn't necessarily require a vote of the people to undo such a dedication, so no vote of the people is required to trade away Strawberry Fields. She added that details of an exchange are left to city administration, not City Council.

Councilor Gaebler thanked the city staff and The Broadmoor for their efforts. "I have no doubt The Boradmoor will take care of this land," she said, anticipating the final outcome despite her negative vote. Quoting city founder Gen. William Palmer, she said she couldn't vote to sell or trade city land.

Councilor Murray noted the bottom line is value for citizens. "We're not being given a choice," he said. "Selling heirlooms is the last act of a desperate man. But we're not desperate. It's a political vote." He also said Parks Board members have said they felt intimidated when dealing with The Broadmoor. Murray also said there's been no cost benefit analysis conducted.

Councilor Collins called the matter "the most intense issue" since she's been on Council. She said she voted no because of questions about the appraisals. She also noted that Cheyenne Canon was General Palmer's favorite park.

Councilor Don Knight disagreed with statements that the process was well-run. "By the time this came to Council, a lot of the decisions had already been made," he said. "The way forward if we don't look at how it was handled, we'll just repeat it," he said. Nevertheless, Knight supported the trade because he said the city simply doesn't have the money to increase funding for parks maintenance.

Councilor Pico said he went back and forth on the land swap, but voted in favor because overall the city comes out on top by doing the deal. "What makes this deal work is the conservation easements ... these things are going to have to come together before it comes through," Pico said, also agreeing with Knight about city budget concerns. "The key thing is it will be open for public use in perpetuity."

After a majority of councilors made their wishes known, Chief of Staff Jeff Greene interjected comments of how wonderful The Broadmoor has been for the city. "The Broadmoor has made a commitment to this community for almost 100 years," he said. He cited the millions of dollars the resort spent to restore Seven Falls after buying it a couple of years ago.

Mayor Suthers, he noted, will sign the contract after the conservation easement is imposed. "If the mayor deems there are issues with this contract, we'll be coming back to Council," Greene said.

Then, Councilor Larry Bagley thanked everyone for their time and announced his support of the motion as "the best solution for most of the city."

Councilor Tom Strand, the last to share his feelings, called the process "tortuous." He said he'd attended 18 public meetings, counting a media tour of the property. "If that isn't transparent, I don't know what is," he said. Opponents have been given ample time, and efforts were made to find common ground, he said, adding that the majority of Springs residents support the trade. 

Council President Merv Bennett also supported the deal.


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