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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Colorado Springs park "protectors" strategize next move

Posted By on Wed, Feb 19, 2020 at 10:43 AM

click to enlarge Kent Obee, a long time parks supporter, on a hike in the Stratton Open Space. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Kent Obee, a long time parks supporter, on a hike in the Stratton Open Space.
A band of citizens dedicated to preserving city parkland continues to mull what its next step might be after a defeat last summer for a bid to require voter approval for disposal of parks.

Protect Our Parks, a movement born from the city's 2016 deal to trade its 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor for wooded acreage and trail easements, might yet pose a ballot measure. Go here for background on the issue.

Or, the group might try an end run around a local process by seeking a change in the state Constitution which could prove equally daunting.

Kent Obee, a leader of Protect Our Parks (POPs), writes in a briefing to members that member Donna Strom suggested appealing to state lawmakers to refer a measure to voters statewide that would "require voter protection of parklands in home rule municipalities as is already the case with our statutory municipalities." Colorado Springs is a home-rule city and, as such, asserts that it can dispose of parkland and open space by City Council vote. But Strom acknowledged the research for that possible avenue is incomplete.

As POPs supporters have previously noted, nearly all cities of significant size in Colorado have adopted a similar measure to Protect Our Parks, including most major cities on the Front Range — Denver, Aurora, Lakewood, Boulder, Greeley, Parker, Castle Rock. But over the past several decades, only one or two elections have taken place regarding a land sale or swap.

Two other options outlined by Obee:

• Collect thousands of signatures to petition a measure onto the city ballot in April 2021. (Twice as many signatures would be needed to force a measure onto the November 2020 ballot.)
• Try once again to work with Council.

"We did not achieve unanimity," he advised in an email to supporters. "The majority view (with varying levels of optimism/enthusiasm) was to give the Council option one more try within real limits. These limits included getting things resolved in the next couple of months to avoid the kind of photo-finish disaster we experienced last summer, getting clarity in the [ballot] referral that the list of parks being protected was the one developed and approved by the City POPS Committee and to firmly resist further Wayne Williams attempts to subvert POPS. On this latter point, it was agreed that his super majority requirement would only be acceptable as a part of a referral as long as the final decision on any parkland conveyance remained in the hands of the voters — in other words, the requirement of a Council super majority vote to refer a parkland conveyance to a vote of the people was okay as long as the final say remained with the voters."

(Williams injected a proposal into the process last year that would allow Council to dispose of parkland but require a 6-3 majority to do so. This morphed into a second ballot measure, which lost favor and ultimately wasn't referred to the ballot.)

The POPs meeting ended with general agreement to give Council another try while also gathering more information about the state constitutional change option.

Obee also called attention to two other parks issues he says are deserving of residents' attention:

• The city will consider changing the Park Land Dedication Ordinance to reduce the required amount of parkland set aside in new developments from the current 7.5 acres per 1,000 residents to 5.5 acres per 1,000. Says Obee, "This is the wrong way to be going — particularly for a city that smugly bills itself as the 'second best place' (or whatever) to live in the country."
He was referring to U.S. News & World Report naming Colorado Springs the most desirable place to live  2019.

• The city's attempt to "activate" three of the city's oldest and most historic downtown parks: Acacia Park, Antlers Park and Alamo Park, which Obee refers to as the "Disneyfication" of those parks, and encourage citizens to participate in the city's process. Find information about that here.

The city's report shows that less than 40 percent of those surveyed expressed support for holding more events and entertainment in those parks, whereas more than 70 percent supported more "cleanliness and maintenance" and "greater safety and security."
click to enlarge screen_shot_2020-02-19_at_8.09.40_am.png

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