Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Strawberry Fields appraisal needs fresh look, citizens say

Posted By on Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 3:41 PM

click to enlarge Opponents of the city's land exchange with The Broadmoor gathered outside City Hall today, Dec. 12, prior to a City Council meeting at which they asked Council to revisit the appraisal of Strawberry Fields, a 186-acre open space the city traded away. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Opponents of the city's land exchange with The Broadmoor gathered outside City Hall today, Dec. 12, prior to a City Council meeting at which they asked Council to revisit the appraisal of Strawberry Fields, a 186-acre open space the city traded away.

So many questions pervade the appraisal of Strawberry Fields open space, also called Strawberry Hill, that Colorado Springs City Council should revisit the land exchange that ceded the city's 186 acres to The Broadmoor, about a dozen people told Council at its meeting today, Dec. 12.

The exchange, approved by Council on a 6-3 vote on May 24, 2016, has come into question due to the Colorado Board of Real Estate Appraisers' action against the Strawberry Fields appraiser, Kyle Wigington, who was hired by the city.

The Independent reported the BOREA action in a story that also reported The Broadmoor's attorneys prepared amicus briefs for a Colorado Court of Appeals action involving the land and asked two nonprofits to submit them to the court. Neither agency — the Trails and Open Space Coalition, which backed the exchange, and the Palmer Land Trust, which holds the conservation easement on most of the property — agreed to do so. A legal expert consulted by the Indy said that asking the nonprofits to falsely claim authorship of the brief runs contrary to the spirit of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct.

The lawsuit that The Broadmoor is fighting was filed by the nonprofit Save Cheyenne, which formed amid the land exchange discussion in 2016 for the express purpose of opposing the swap. The case is on appeal from a District Court decision in the city's and Broadmoor's favor.

Douglas Greenberg was among the citizens who spoke. He called the trade "corrupt," "inappropriate" and "appalling," and added, citing the Indy story, "Now it's even more evident." Greenberg also said the idea that the city needed the seven scattered parcels given to the city by The Broadmoor in the land swap is "just crazy."

"This community is not going to just roll over," he said. "The community is going to continue to protest this thing."

Council President Richard Skorman, who was the leader of Save Cheyenne until he was elected to Council last April, said he wants Council to discuss the matter. He also said he wants another legal opinion besides that of City Attorney Wynetta Massey, who told Council at the Dec. 12 meeting that BOREA's action to fine Wigington and order him to complete 41 hours of education in various areas of appraisal work, including highest and best use, was not of concern.

She said there had been no "formal filing of violation or wrongdoing" and that BOREA only took issue with documentation, not the value, $1,581,000, Wigington assigned to the property. BOREA imposed the penalties at a Nov. 2 meeting. Wigington is entitled to appeal the action.

Regardless, she said, this Council, which contains three new members installed in April, can't reverse the action taken by the previous Council. The land transaction closed in December 2016.

Like Skorman, Councilor Bill Murray was game to revisit the matter, noting the City Attorney's Office was wrong initially when it said the property wasn't acquired as the result of a vote of the people in 1885 when, in fact, it had been.

Skorman said it defies logic that an 8.5-acre "building envelop" amid the 186-acre property, on which The Broadmoor will build a horse stable and picnic pavilion for its guests, is worth only $8,300 per acre. It's common sense that a large commercial space next door to The Broadmoor-owned Seven Falls would be worth more, he said.

Skorman also called for a fresh appraisal.

Councilor David Geislinger disagreed, saying if Council revisited past Council decisions, it would be deemed ineffective and unreliable. "We can't constantly be subjected to second-guessing," he said.

Save Cheyenne supporters spent an hour pleading for Council to take another look.

"My request to you is to examine it," Save Cheyenne's leader Kent Obee said. "The highest and best use certainly was not applied to the Strawberry Fields property. There were many problems with that appraisal."

Linda Hodges also questioned whether The Broadmoor's tax break in the form of a donation based on the difference between the value of the city's land and The Broadmoor's land (The Broadmoor's parcels were assigned a higher value in appraisals) might need a second look if Strawberry Fields is actually worth more.

Arguments in the case on appeal will be held Jan. 9.

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