Swap stop 

Bear Creek Park plan struck down

By the slimmest of margins, City Council voted last Tuesday to block a land swap and zoning change that could have plunked convenience stores and burger joints within 10 feet of Bear Creek Park on the city's west side.

The battle of Bear Creek pitted Junior Achievement, a nonprofit that provides leadership training for children, against a feisty rabble of neighbors and Eighth Street businesses.

The organization had asked to swap part of its 2.1-acre property surrounded by the park, popular with runners and horseback riders, with land owned by El Paso County. It then wanted to have it rezoned from office complex to business center, at which point it would be sold for a profit. Among Junior Achievement's claims: The plan would allow dangerous intersections to be redesigned, and allow the county to fully own a horse trail in the park.

But the resistance was stiff from community groups, including the Council of Neighbors and Organizations, the Trails and Open Space Coalition and various nearby businesses leery of new 24-hour businesses on top of the park.

"Bear Creek is the jewel in the county park system," said Dan Cleveland, executive director of the trails coalition, speaking at Council before the vote. "You're going to see a concrete strip mall 10 feet from the park."

Five of the nine Council members voted against the swap. They included Larry Small, Randy Purvis, Margaret Radford, Richard Skorman and Mayor Lionel Rivera.

"We have too much development around parks and trails," Skorman said of his successful motion to reject the plan.

"This is a classic case of, 'You better be careful, because you're going to get what you voted for,'" Councilman Scott Hente said in a later interview. Hente said he didn't join the majority because he wanted to propose a plan that would place more restrictions on what kinds of businesses could exist alongside the park.

He added that it's possible that a huge new office complex will be equally unpalatable to the neighbors. "The neighborhood isn't going to like that, either."

-- Dan Wilcock


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