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Planned Parenthood to reopen, VA under criticism, and more 

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Planned Parenthood update

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains will reopen Monday, Feb. 15. Parts of the building are still under construction, so only a portion of the office space will be in service. The clinic plans to offer the full range of services at the location, though appointments will be limited until the rest of the building reopens, which should happen in the next few months.

In a statement posted on the PPRM website, President and CEO Vicki Cowart states, "On February 15 we will open the doors to serve our community just as we have done for generations. We are in awe of our healing and resilient colleagues in Colorado Springs. They are eager to get back to the mission they so deeply care about and the people they so compassionately care for. We welcome our team and our community back into the space with open arms and full hearts."

The local Planned Parenthood clinic has been closed since Nov. 27, when Robert Dear opened fire there, killing three people and wounding nine.

Patients seeking abortion services in Southern Colorado have had to travel outside the region since then ("Planned Parenthood shooting leaves Southern Colorado without abortion services — for now," News, Jan. 20).

In her statement, Cowartsays the clinic has increased security since the shooting. But she also stresses that patients shouldn't have to fear going to a health care clinic. "We stand, stronger than ever," she writes, "for the belief that every person in this community, this country, and around the world deserves access to reproductive health care without fear of harassment or violence." — JAS

Veterans wait — and wait

Findings issued last Thursday by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs showed 288 veterans encountered waits longer than 30 days at the PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom Outpatient Clinic in Colorado Springs. Even worse, VA staff tried to make their record-keeping "appear the appointment wait time was less than 30 days," according to the IG report.

"One affected veteran sent the complaint, along with examples of issues affecting clinic services provided in audiology, mental health, neurology, optometry, orthopedic, and primary care. We substantiated the allegation that the veteran, as well as other eligible Colorado Springs veterans, did not receive timely care in the six reviewed services."

Colorado's congressional delegation immediately reacted with harsh criticism.

Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, issued a statement saying, "It is intolerable that investigations continue to uncover these unacceptable practices at the VA. Our veterans deserve better.

"Veterans waiting too long must have the option to access care ... and scheduling processes must be followed correctly. We'll review the report's findings and recommendations, ensure that the appropriate corrective steps are taken, and determine if any additional policy changes are needed. It's clear from this report that we must continue to demand accountability at the VA and that strong oversight is still essential." — PZ

Sliding home

The earth has been on the move in parts of western Colorado Springs, causing landslides that are destroying some homes.

The good news for those unfortunate homeowners is that Colorado Springs is giving them a chance to opt into a federal grant program that the city has applied for: a Federal Emergency Management Agency Hazard Mitigation Grant Program through the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

If the city is able to get the funding, homeowners could get assistance. The city will conduct two meetings to inform homeowners of the option next week.

"We want to ensure than any property owner who feels they have been significantly impacted by the recent landslides has an opportunity to learn more about recent landslide activity and the federal grant program that the City will compete for in May 2016,"Bret Waters, director for the Colorado Springs Office of Emergency Management, stated in a release.

The meetings will be at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 16 at St. Paul's Catholic Church, 9 El Pomar Road, and at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 18 at 4890 Farthing Drive.

To learn more, visit ColoradoSprings.gov/landslideinfo. — JAS

Back at the BLR

City Attorney Wynetta Massey gave an overview of the history of the Banning Lewis Ranch, annexed in 1988 with a "hard zoning" master plan in place.

Problem is, there are a couple dozen landowners out there (BLR covers the eastern quarter or so of the city), and the infrastructure requirements imposed on developers have sterilized development over the years. It's just too darned expensive to develop it, or even sell it to someone who wants to develop it.

The biggest chunk of land is owned by Nor'wood Development Group, the region's biggest developer, which acquired it in 2014.

Massey explained that in 2007, in response to a court case, the city worked with landowners to come up with a shared agreement of how much would be charged for various infrastructure, including police and fire stations, parks, streets, overpasses and the like. This agreement replaced the annexation agreement's "joint and several" requirements for infrastructure.

Massey also explained that the mayor, not City Council, enforces such agreements to make sure all terms and conditions are "faithfully kept and performed." So, it's now the mayor's office involved in negotiating new terms. A deal would end an appeal of an earlier federal bankruptcy court ruling that concluded the annexation agreement is binding for the owners, including Nor'wood.

The stay of the appeal ends on Feb. 15, which is why this is coming up now.

Although Councilor Bill Murray said he'd like to have the negotiations take place in public, he was shut down. "We have a right to ask you what you intend to do on Feb. 15," he said, "if they [Nor'wood] ask for an extension [of the stay]. Why not in open session?"

Massey refused, saying talks in open public session would compromise the city strategy. However, she agreed — presumably with the blessing of Mayor John Suthers, since his Chief of Staff Jeff Greene approved it — to welcome participation in negotiations by Councilors Tom Strand and Andy Pico.

At the end of the day, Massey noted, Council must approve the amended annexation agreement. Councilor Don Knight expressed concern the Council is being put in the position of being a rubber stamp, saying, "What freedoms do we have when it comes to Council to make changes to it, or do we just vote it up or down?"

"I don't think you're just a rubber stamp," Massey said. "You're acting in the best interest of the city whether the terms and conditions presented are appropriate."

Knight then expressed relief that Council is working with Suthers rather than former Mayor Steve Bach, who seemed to create a lot of acrimony between his office and Council.

Moreover, Greene noted that the BLR negotiations aren't an aberration. "What's occurring today is no different than any other subdivision process that occurs," he said.

Also, Massey noted that while the spirit of the original annexation agreement is being upheld in the negotiations, things change over time. For example, she said, if the city's power generation capability changed, it might not need all the electric substation sites contained in the original agreement. "If we don't need them," she said, "why should [developers] pay for them?"

Pico said the agreement, once presented to Council, will be dealt with in open session. "This is a 30-year-old agreement," he said. "We ought to take a look at it. There's no skullduggery going on."

"Very well said," said Council President Merv Bennett.

"I also want to emphasize," Greene added, "as we go through any type of land use process, we will follow all the requirements outlined in the code. We will ensure the transparency of this process. No determinations will be made until Council has been fully prepared, public meetings and stakeholders discussions are held." — PZ

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