Colorado Springs plans $7 million open space purchase

June 26, 2013 Updated: June 26, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Colorado Springs officials have reached a deal with technology company Hewlett-Packard to buy 200 acres next to Ute Valley Park for $7 million, less if the city receives hoped-for grants and donations.

The open land is roughly between Popes Valley Drive and Rockrimmon Boulevard and blends into the park so well most visitors aren't aware they are trespassing on private property. The land has been identified for park expansion in the city's master plan since 1997.

The purchase would be funded by the voter-approved trails, open space and parks one-tenth of a percent sales tax, or a penny on every $10 purchase in the city. It would increase the park's size by 60 percent.

HP officials have rebuffed city overtures about buying the land in the past, but the company changed its tune recently, provided the deal could be closed by the end of August, said TOPS manager Chris Lieber. To meet the time line, the TOPS Working Committee, which decides funding priorities, held a special meeting Wednesday and unanimously approved the deal. It will go before the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board July 11 and City Council July 23, Lieber said.

The TOPS program would spend a maximum of $6.4 million to buy the land in two phases. Great Outdoors Colorado has pledged $600,000 in lottery funds. Officials hope to get more grant money and nonprofits the Trust for Public Land and Friends of Ute Valley Park are trying to raise $400,000.

The purchase would go in two phases, the first half in August and the second half in 2015. The Trust for Public Land would hold onto the second parcel until then, Lieber said.

At minimum, the TOPS program would spend $5.2 million, still a major segment of the program's $6.6 million in annual revenue. Officials are required to spend 60 percent of the tax on land acquisition.

"This is one of just a handful of the significant open space candidate areas that were left on the open space master plan," said Lieber. "It represents a unique opportunity and it's great to be able to have a willing seller in HP and a partner with the Trust for Public Land."

A trail is planned to connect the park with the Pikes Peak Greenway after the sale. City officials will hold public meetings in the future on what development, if any, would occur in the park.

HP has downsized and demolished buildings on its campus, its business hurt by customers' switch from personal computers to tablets. Neighbors were concerned the company might sell the land, zoned for industrial park and residential use, for development. HP recently filed paperwork with the city for a replat of 200 acres, an effort that "supports the sale and redevelopment of the vacant properties."

Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition, shared the concerns about the trails on HP's land being lost to development.

"It's always been sort of in the back of our minds that that's a piece of property that should be purchased for public use. Most people already consider it to be part of Ute Valley Park, so it's just the right thing to do," she said.

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