Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Construction begins at Garden of the Gods, stalls at Strawberry Fields

Posted By on Wed, Jul 3, 2019 at 9:27 AM

click to enlarge Work has begun at Garden of the Gods.
  • Work has begun at Garden of the Gods.

As promised, the city's contractors are digging at Garden of the Gods to build a detention pond designed to quell the possibility of flooding during heavy rains. (We wrote about the project in mid-June.)

Meanwhile, across town, a private project made possible by public/private deal, apparently has stalled. Strawberry Fields, the former 189-acre city-owned open space, remains untouched by construction equipment.

Here's a look at both projects.

Garden of the Gods

The city says the Garden of the Gods detention pond is needed. It will cost $8.9 million, and is funded mostly with Federal Emergency Management Agency money but also state and local funds. From our story:

The detention pond will harness and gradually release flood waters, the city says. The pond’s dam will be topped with a trail, and, as city engineering programs manager Mike Chaves noted in a statement, the area will be seeded “with native grasses and shrubs similar to the existing vegetation,” allowing the pond to “blend into the natural environment to the extent practical.” 

Some residents, including members of the Friends of Garden of the Gods, opposed the project, saying other mitigation measures should have been allowed to demonstrate their effectiveness before the city gouged into the Garden's meadows.

They lost. Dump trucks are hauling the extra dirt to Red Rocks open space about five miles away, a city spokesperson confirmed.

Here's what the park looked like before the bulldozers showed up.
click to enlarge PHOTOS BY PAM ZUBECK
  • Photos by Pam Zubeck
Here's what it looked like on July 2.
click to enlarge detentionpond2.7_2_19.jpg

Strawberry Fields

In 2016, the city traded Strawberry Hill Open Space (better known as Strawberry Fields, and located just south of North Cheyenne Cañon), to The Broadmoor in exchange for several trail connections and a few hundred acres of wooded wild lands.

Catch up on the background here.

Vocal locals organized in opposition to the move, filing a lawsuit that challenged the city's authority to give away land that the public had voted to make a public park. (Strawberry Fields was approved for purchase by voters in 1885.)

The citizens lost. In September 2018, the Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a state Court of Appeals decision, which sided with the city and the resort on the land swap. The high court's refusal to entertain the appeal cleared the way for construction of a stable and picnic facility, as articulated by the resort as its plan, on about eight acres in the open space's meadow. But nothing's happened.

click to enlarge Here's a turnout where a trail leads to that meadow. No sign of construction activity.
  • Here's a turnout where a trail leads to that meadow. No sign of construction activity.

Per the agreement with the city, the area that wasn't slated for development — 181 acres — remain under a conservation easement with the Palmer Land Trust.
Candice Hall, the trust's director of land stewardship, tells the Independent she can't say much, because the land remains privately owned and she can't publicly disclose information, such as whether the owner has complied with the easement's restrictions. "It's really between us and them," she says.

But she does note: "We have complied with every bit of responsibility we have, which would include enforcing the terms of the conservation easement. They [The Broadmoor] have turned over quarterly reports. We’ve reviewed them."

We've reached out to The Broadmoor for an update of where plans stand for Strawberry Fields. We'll circle back if we hear something. 

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