Wednesday, July 31, 2019

New Protect Our Parks ballot measure might be in the works

Posted By on Wed, Jul 31, 2019 at 9:27 AM

click to enlarge Strawberry Fields open space gave rise to the movement for the Protect Our Parks ballot measure. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Strawberry Fields open space gave rise to the movement for the Protect Our Parks ballot measure.
City officials are scurrying to draft a hybrid Protect Our Parks ballot measure that would blend the original POPs measure with a last-minute version, which some suspect is designed to enable the city to convey certain city parkland to developers, according to parks advocate Kent Obee and City Councilor Bill Murray.

But the parks director disputes a hybrid measure is in the works.

The original POPs, crafted by a committee of stakeholders over a five-month period earlier this year, would require a vote of the people before the city conveys parkland, either through sales or exchanges, to another entity, corporation or individual.

The last-minute version, proposed by Councilor Wayne Williams on May 28, would allow City Council to convey parkland on a 6-3 vote. (This is the measure which appears to be favored by a majority of Council, based on a June 22 meeting.)

click to enlarge Kent Obee on a hike in Stratton Open Space. He says Council and the mayor are trying to defang a parks protection measure. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Kent Obee on a hike in Stratton Open Space. He says Council and the mayor are trying to defang a parks protection measure.
A 6-3 Council vote in 2016 approved a controversial swap in which the city traded its 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor in exchange for 400 acres of largely wilderness land and trail easements. The Strawberry Fields deal gave rise to the nonprofit Save Cheyenne, which gave birth to the POPs measure after a protracted legal battle failed to overturn the Strawberry Fields exchange.

Council is due to consider on Aug. 13 which measure to refer to the Nov. 5 ballot — one that would allow Council to convey parkland on a 6-3 vote or one that would require voter approval of all transfers, which is favored by Save Cheyenne.

Now, Obee says, he fears the third option will arise during an Aug. 12 work session one day prior to the vote to refer a measure to the ballot.

"I think they're trying to defang it," says Obee, who notes he learned of the new proposal from a couple of Council members.

Obee says his group opposes the hybrid proposal, which would create two classes of parks — one, which likely would include smaller neighborhood parks, that wouldn't have voter protection, and another, including regional and community parks, that would have voter protection. But Obee admits he doesn't know which parks would or wouldn't be protected under the third hybrid option.

No other city in Colorado relies on such a hybrid plan, Obee says, although many cities have adopted measures that mirror POPs by requiring voter approval to convey parkland.

The hybrid, Obee says, "undercuts our basic premise that the parks belong to the people and the people should have the final say when parkland is conveyed."

Parks Director Karen Palus tells the Independent via email there are only two ballot measures Council will consider at its Aug. 13 meeting.

Asked about Palus' denial that a third hybrid measure was in the works, Obee says via email, "For what it is worth, I believe the folks on the city staff who were asked to draw up the hybrid version were the City Attorney's office, not the Parks Department."

Obee cites another reason for concern for park advocates. He says in recent days, Save Cheyenne supporters noticed the POPs measure's list of parks subject to a vote of the people doesn't contain Jimmy Camp Creek Park, 700 acres as yet undeveloped as a park on the city's northeast side adjacent to Banning Lewis Ranch.
click to enlarge Jimmy Camp Creek Park lies in the city's extreme northeast sector. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • Jimmy Camp Creek Park lies in the city's extreme northeast sector.

Most of BLR belongs to Nor'wood Development Group, the region's biggest developer that's owned by David Jenkins.

"On the original list, it was there," he says.

That leads him and others to wonder if the city is negotiating a deal to convey Jimmy Camp property to someone.

"Don’t wonder," Murray tells the Independent via email, "that is the plan."

"In an attempt to block POPS from appearing on the ballot to likely success, the mayor is throwing a lot of chaff to confuse the issues," Murray says. "Most [Front Range] cities have this protection. I would suggest an ulterior motive. There are developers who are interested in current park lands for development. And the mayor is supporting these developers."

The city obtained Jimmy Camp Creek 20 years ago from the developer that owned the property at that time. Budget restraints have prevented its development into a park. Land around the creek was acquired by Colorado Springs Utilities for a possible reservoir as part of the Southern Delivery System water pipeline project, but the site was abandoned for several reasons, including its harboring of one of the best exposures in the world of the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary, which marked the end of the Mesozoic Era, or the Age of Reptiles (dinosaurs), some 66 million years ago.

But Palus says there's no pending deal to transfer Jimmy Camp Creek Park or any part of it. She says it's not on the list of parks that would be voted on by the people under the POPs measure, because it hasn't been developed. The protection list, she notes, doesn't include any land acquired from developers through the city's Parkland Dedication Ordinance that hasn't been developed into a park, which includes Jimmy Camp, a provision with which Save Cheyenne agreed.

"When that parkland is developed, that parkland would then be added to the [POPs protection] designation list," Palus says.

Dismissing plans to trade away a portion of Jimmy Camp, Palus says, "There are currently no pending transactions with Jimmy Camp Creek at this time."

However, Mayor John Suthers, who opposes giving voters a chance to vote on parkland transfers, hinted that a deal might be pending regarding Jimmy Camp Creek during a May 28 meeting with Council, as we reported in our cover story on July 17:
“It’s very conceivable to me that some rich person is going to offer us a deal that needs to close by the end of the year for tax purposes,” Suthers said. “He wants an acre, and he’s going to give us 400 acres, and we’re going to say, ‘Sorry, we have to take it to a vote [of the people].’”

Although parks officials say there’s no significant land transfer currently under negotiations, Suthers may see one on the not-too-distant horizon.

During the May 28 meeting, the mayor hinted that POPs could obstruct a land exchange in the Jimmy Camp Creek vicinity in east Colorado Springs. That land is adjacent to property owned by Nor’wood Development Group, the region’s biggest developer, which has indicated a desire to work a deal with the city for a portion of its 18,500-acre Banning Lewis Ranch.

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