Strawberry Fields Land Swap a “dangerous precedent for giving public lands away”

 

Strawberry Fields

The meadow at Strawberry Fields, southeast of Mount Cutler in South Cheyenne Canyon, North Cheyenne Cañon Park, is the main focus of a hotly disputed land deal that would give the public property to the Broadmoor in a land trade. Photo by Stewart M. Green.

At first glance, it’s hard to understand why some people are opposed to a swap of public and private land between the City of Colorado Springs and the Broadmoor.

The proposed deal appears to be a win-win for local recreationists.

In the proposal, the public gets 154.6 acres around Barr Trail and the Manitou Incline, and 208 acres west of North Cheyenne Cañon Park, popular hiking areas. Springs residents also get 8.6 acres south of Bear Creek Regional Park, which would allow the park to expand.

In return, the Broadmoor gets 0.55 acres off of Ruxton Avenue, which it currently leases for Cog Railway parking, plus 189.5 acres of North Cheyenne Cañon Park, known as Strawberry Fields. The Broadmoor also promises public access to the ice climbing area known as Hully Gully, and a trail through Strawberry Fields.

The size and financial worth of the properties clearly put the deal in the city’s favor, an argument voiced by supporters. But opponents of the deal believe there is more at stake than acreage, easements and assessments.

“We should not be weighing this based on acreage and financial value,” said Springs business owner Richard Skorman. “What the Broadmoor is trading to the city doesn’t have any practical value to them, only financial value. The city is giving away property that has recreational value to the public.”

Skorman is concerned about how the deal was crafted. “The Broadmoor, city parks department and city staff put this together, but we have no details at all about the commercial development that’s going to end up in Strawberry Fields. They plan on developing 7-9 acres, which is probably going to be the only flat area on the property – the meadow – an area the public currently enjoys most,” he said. Skorman also questioned why there has been no inclusion of the city’s planning department, which would traditionally evaluate proposed development.

“If they are putting in a 100-seat pavilion, horse or pony stables, and 45-minute long riding trails, they should be doing noise and light pollution studies, and traffic studies. If they plan on having music, that canyon is like an echo chamber. They will have to bus people to the area, and they’re already shuttling people to Seven Falls, so that’s going to cause even more congestion, and affect local residents and recreationists. This requires an environmental assessment, because it’s a drainage area into Cheyenne Creek, which already has problems with E. coli and flooding,” he said, adding that this type of development is typically fully vetted before it is even brought before the city council.

“TOPS and the parks department should do a master plan of South Cheyenne Canyon first, since that hasn’t been done since 2003. The city council and the park board don’t have enough information to make the proper evaluations, and they certainly won’t know how Strawberry Fields could benefit the public until there is a public benefit master planning process. That should all happen first, and then if the Broadmoor’s plans can fit into what’s best for the public, a lease could be considered. This is being done backwards, and creates a dangerous precedent for giving public lands away. The public has a right to have our questions answered before a decision is made, and right now we know very little.”

Skorman would like to see the commercial development follow the standard development and planning process before it would be even considered by the park board and city council, like any other commercial development. “This is being rushed, and the citizens of Colorado Springs should demand to slow it down, and we should be brought into the process,” he said, adding that the proposal should ultimately be voted on by the public, “because it was originally voted on by the public in 1885.” Skorman added, “The precedent of trading property is a slippery slope, we don’t want to open that door because we own public land all over the city that landowners and developers would love to trade for.”

Skorman also noted that fears about limiting access to Barr Trail and the Incline if the swap doesn’t go through are unfounded. “It would be easier to let the city buy those properties with TOPS money,” he said, “That’s what TOPS is for. The Broadmoor doesn’t want the liability anyway.”

A Facebook page titled Save Cheyenne was set up in opposition to the land swap, and a petition against the deal at www.change.org has more than 3,000 signatures. Skorman is leading hikes through Strawberry Fields daily at 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., and anyone interested is welcomed to meet for the hike at Sacred Grounds on Cheyenne Boulevard.

Residents can attend a monthly TOPS working committee meeting, and a monthly park board meeting, to learn more. A public meeting about the proposed land deal will be held on Wednesday, March 30, at Gold Camp Elementary, 1805 Preserve Drive. Springs residents are welcome to attend to learn more, ask questions, and voice their opinions on the proposal.

Cheyenne-Land-Swap-Richard-Skorman

Springs businessman Richard Skorman has many questions about the proposed land swap between the city and the Broadmoor. Photo courtesy of Richard Skorman.

 

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