Monday, September 24, 2018

Strawberry Fields legal battle ends, Broadmoor and City prevail

Posted By on Mon, Sep 24, 2018 at 3:13 PM

click to enlarge Strawberry Fields no longer is subject to a legal fight. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Strawberry Fields no longer is subject to a legal fight.
After nearly two years of court maneuvering, an effort to halt the city's land exchange of Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor is over.

It ended on Sept. 24 when the Colorado Supreme Court announced it wouldn't hear an appeal from a state Court of Appeals decision that sided with the city's argument that the land swap was proper.

Save Cheyenne, which formed to oppose the swap of the 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor in 2016, could find a new cause to rally behind, however.

The Strawberry Fields land swap, introduced by the city in early 2016, was approved by City Council on May 24, 2016. Besides giving the open space to The Broadmoor, along with a parking lot at the base of the Manitou Incline, it also gave the city Broadmoor-owned wooded lands and trail easements totaling nearly 400 acres.
click to enlarge Public meetings drew hundreds of people, most of whom said they opposed the land swap. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Public meetings drew hundreds of people, most of whom said they opposed the land swap.

The proposal's public hearings filled school cafeterias and other venues where the city held the feedback sessions from residents. Save Cheyenne says several polls showed the deal was overwhelmingly unpopular among citizens, but it was approved anyway.

But the deal triggered a legal challenge on Aug. 2, 2016, by Save Cheyenne, which raised donations from opponents of the land swap to carry the case to the state's appellate court.

Save Cheyenne argued that because the property was acquired by the city after a vote of the people in 1885, it couldn't be disposed of without voters' permission. The suit also argued that because Strawberry Fields has a greater value than land traded to the city, the swap violates the state Constitution, which bars government gifts to corporations.
click to enlarge Kent Obee and others comprising the nonprofit Save Cheyenne lost their bid to overturn the city's land swap with The Broadmoor of Strawberry Fields open space. - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • Kent Obee and others comprising the nonprofit Save Cheyenne lost their bid to overturn the city's land swap with The Broadmoor of Strawberry Fields open space.

After District Judge Michael McHenry ruled in the city's favor on Dec. 1, 2016, by dismissing the case, Save Cheyenne appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals. That move was followed by the intervention of the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway Co., COG Land & Development Co. and The Broadmoor. All are controlled by The Broadmoor's billionaire owner Philip Anschutz.

The city and The Broadmoor contended the city's home-rule authority allowed the city to dispose of the property via a trade, and that the city got property from the resort valued at $3.6 million, versus Strawberry Fields' $1.6 million appraised value, negating the constitutional argument.

“We fought a good fight and I continue to believe that, while the court system may have deemed that the City/Broadmoor land swap was technically and legally correct, it — and the way in which it was carried out — was morally and ethically corrupt,” Obee wrote to supporters in an email.

click to enlarge About eight acres of prime meadow will be closed to the public under The Broadmoor's ownership, but the vast majority is to be open for public access under a conservation easement. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • About eight acres of prime meadow will be closed to the public under The Broadmoor's ownership, but the vast majority is to be open for public access under a conservation easement.
The case has some twists and turns along the way, such as a report by the Independent that the appraiser hired by the city to appraise Strawberry Fields had been hit with penalties by the Colorado Board of Real Estate Appraisers, which ruled the appraiser's report "did not contain documentation in support of the judgments made."

The Supreme Court's decision to not hear the case means The Broadmoor can proceed with building a picnic pavilion and horse stable on about eight acres of Strawberry Fields, with the remainder under a conservation easement requiring access by the public.

Though the loss is hard for Save Cheyenne supporters to swallow, Obee suggests the group's work might not be done.

Obee says in a email to supporters he wants to open the door for "some preliminary discussion about where we as a group might go from here."

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