Thursday, May 17, 2018

North Cheyenne Cañon plan challenged, appeal to be heard by Council

Posted By on Thu, May 17, 2018 at 4:45 PM

click to enlarge The South Cheyenne Creek in North Cheyenne Cañon Park is dry and has been for a few months. Opponents of the park's master plan take issue with the possibility of redirecting the creek. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • The South Cheyenne Creek in North Cheyenne Cañon Park is dry and has been for a few months. Opponents of the park's master plan take issue with the possibility of redirecting the creek.
On May 17, former El Paso County Commissioner Jim Bensberg paid the required $176 fee to appeal the city's Parks Advisory Board's approval of a new master plan for the North Cheyenne Cañon Park.

Bensberg and the Cheyenne Cañon Conservationists, a loose-knit group started in 2010, contend the master plan sets new policy without relying on the judgment of elected officials on City Council. Under the current set up, parks master plans aren't reviewed by Council, only the Parks Advisory Board.

The parks board approved the master plan on May 10 after an hours-long public meeting at which dozens of supporters of the plan, including Broadmoor employees, spoke in favor of it.
click to enlarge One of many picnic areas in North Cheyenne Cañon Park. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • One of many picnic areas in North Cheyenne Cañon Park.
Bensberg and others contend The Broadmoor, owner of Seven Falls on the park's west side, stands to gain from components of the master plan that would allow the city to reroute the south creek, shut roads in the vicinity of Seven Falls and take other steps to sanitize the natural character of the park and turn it into a "Disneyland" attraction.

Referring to a picnic area west of the Starsmore Center where gatherings such as weddings and receptions are frequently held, Bensberg says, "They want to bulldoze that area for a parking lot."

"We don't believe the problems city staff has outlined can justify these draconian measures they're taking," he says.

Opponents of the master plan also are against lumping the north and south sections of the park together into one master plan when, as Bensberg says, they represent two different ecosystems.

The south creek has been dry for months, and has been dry more often than not in recent years. Bensberg says City Council should explain why that is — suggesting that some of the water may be being syphoned off for other purposes. The Independent asked Colorado Springs Utilities about the lack of flow in the south creek and got this explanation via email:
There is no minimum streamflow requirement on South Cheyenne Creek. CSU entered into an agreement with the Cheyenne Creek Metro Park & Water District back in 1993 to bypass 1 cfs on North Cheyenne Creek between April 1 and October 31. Our Raw Water Ops staff monitors that flow daily.
Kent Obee, leader of Save Cheyenne, a nonprofit formed to oppose the city's 2016 deal to trade 186-acre Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor, says his group, too, is opposed to the master plan.

The chief complaint, he says, is the inclusion in the plan of the possibilities for shuttle buses, traffic restrictions and closing off the remaining south canyon loop, which they say could lead to converting Mesa Avenue into a Broadmoor-shuttles-only road. The Broadmoor takes hotel guests and anyone who pays to visit Seven Falls to the attraction via bus.

"They would literally tear up and revegetate the south canyon road," Obee says. "We thought that was one clearly catering to The Broadmoor." He adds the loop draws crowds of people who picnic at pullouts.

Though city officials say those are only possibilities to be determined later, Obee is suspicious.

"We would call it the camel's nose under the tent," he says, explaining that he suspects that  items in the master plan (often described simply as possibilities) will simply be rubber-stamped by the board later on.

Another sticking point is the inclusion in the plan of marketing efforts. "Too much in the plan is marketing, and this park belongs to the citizens, not the tourists," Obee says, citing a column that appeared in this week's Independent. "Too much in the plan is marketing to bring more people in, when frankly, that's the last thing on earth we need."

Council could hear the appeal on June 12, unless Bensberg seeks to delay the hearing due to Council members not being able to attend. He says he wants the entire Council to hear the matter.

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