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Banning Lewis Ranch approvals to finish by late February 

click to enlarge Banning Lewis Ranch could soon look quite different. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Banning Lewis Ranch could soon look quite different.
If all goes as Mayor John Suthers plans, the Banning Lewis Ranch annexation agreement and accompanying city code changes, which are aimed at loosening expensive requirements of the owner of the 18,500 acres to spur development, would be a done deal by late February.

According to a schedule of Colorado Springs City Council actions needed to change the agreement and codes, the process begins Dec. 11 with a closed Council session and ends with the final reading of code amendments on Feb. 27.

The list of eight meetings comes on the heels of a study, given to Council on Nov. 27, that shows the city would see a net gain of $49 million in tax revenue over 30 years if the ranch on the east side is developed, though only $1 million of that would come in the first 10 years.

TischlerBise produced a city-funded $35,080 study a year ago showing the city had lost nearly 3,000 jobs and $4.5 billion in economic activity by watching development skip over the ranch into El Paso County. Some say that’s due to an annexation agreement that puts a $1 billion burden on developers for infrastructure like roads and police and fire stations.

The latest study, which cost the city $57,280, shows the ranch’s build-out would add $41 billion to the economy, create 35,000 jobs and make room for 24,000 new homes over 30 years.

The ranch is almost wholly owned by Nor’wood Development Group, the region’s biggest developer, and a longtime power player in the Springs. (Nor’wood was a major funder of the 2010 campaign that changed the city charter from a council-city manager form of government to strong mayor form.) Nor’wood acquired the ranch in 2014 for $28 million after it was owned for a short time by Ultra Petroleum of Houston. Ultra had hoped to drill for oil and gas on the property but test wells proved lackluster. (Ultra still holds mineral rights to the land.)

Council President Richard Skorman supports the ranch plan, saying the steps to change the annexation agreement are “the beginning of something really positive for the community.”

Councilor Bill Murray isn’t convinced. “It’s too accelerated,” Murray tells the Independent of the schedule. “There’s a lot of additional unknowns in here. First of all, where’s the plan? We have nothing in writing. We have a schedule with no documentation other than PowerPoint slides.”

Murray says the schedule suggests Nor’wood plans a gift or sale of vacant land to the city as open space. (On Jan. 11, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board is slated to consider the annexation agreement, but Council hasn’t been told anything about that, he says.) Murray also notes the study’s finding of $49 million net gain in tax revenue didn’t consider work on arterial streets surrounding the development that might require upgrades, such as widening.

Councilor Don Knight said during the Nov. 27 meeting he’s “a little worried” about city costs to serve the ranch in its first decade but believes the development would pay for itself.

In a Facebook post, Suthers said the current annexation agreement is not in line with “today’s zoning code and development practices,” but he didn’t elaborate. He also said Nor’wood plans to develop only a third of the land as originally planned; hence, the original plan’s call for a six-lane road, the Banning Lewis Parkway, is “overly burdensome” and “unnecessary.”

Nor’wood president Chris Jenkins didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

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