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City prevails in Strawberry Fields ruling 

click to enlarge The Broadmoor aims to build a horse stable and picnic pavilion on its new land. - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • The Broadmoor aims to build a horse stable and picnic pavilion on its new land.
Less than a month after the Jan. 9 oral arguments, the Colorado Court of Appeals handed the city of Colorado Springs a victory, ruling that no vote of the people was necessary to trade the city’s open space, known as Strawberry Fields, to The Broadmoor.

Save Cheyenne, a nonprofit formed to oppose the 2016 land swap, immediately said the case isn’t over. “We’re looking to go to the [Colorado] Supreme Court,” Save Cheyenne spokesperson Kent Obee says. The group will ask the high court to hear the case but the Supreme Court rejects more cases than it accepts.

Mayor John Suthers, a former Colorado attorney general who orchestrated the land swap, countered by asserting the unanimous decision speaks well for the city’s position that the city can legally trade the land, purchased in 1885 after voters granted permission.

“I thought the trial judge’s opinion was very thoughtful and well-written, so I’m not the least bit surprised that it was upheld by the Court of Appeals,” he says in an interview. He adds the city isn’t likely to seek its attorney fees and costs from Save Cheyenne, because the city doesn’t view the lawsuit as frivolous.

The 186-acre Strawberry Fields, in North Cheyenne Cañon park, was part of a deal that also gave the resort a small parking lot near the Manitou Incline. In return, the city received more than 400 acres of wilderness property, easements for various trails and a roughly 9-acre tract immediately east of Bear Creek Regional Park.

Appraisals show The Broadmoor’s land value exceeded that of the city’s land, but an appraisal of Strawberry Fields came into dispute when the Colorado Board of Real Estate Appraisers ruled, in response to a complaint, that the appraisal didn’t follow standard appraisal practices. The board ordered the appraiser, Kyle Wigington, to pay a fine and take classes in such things as highest and best use and other appraisal skills.

Save Cheyenne asserted that land received by the city isn’t worth as much as the open space, which is unconstitutional if the exchange constituted a “gift” from the government to a corporation. The city (and The Broadmoor, which intervened in the case), argued there was no gift and that there’s no deed restriction that trumps the city’s home rule powers.

Though some City Councilors showed concern that land values may have been incorrectly stated, no attempt has been made to undo the deal. The Broadmoor plans to build a horse stable and picnic pavilion on about 8 acres amid the open space for use by its guests, while the balance has been placed under a conservation easement overseen by Palmer Land Trust and opened for public use.

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