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Colorado Springs City Council finishes months-long fight over land swap with 6-3 vote

May 24, 2016 Updated: May 25, 2016 at 7:06 am
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photo - Signs with the Colorado Springs logo were posted at Strawberry Hill open space earlier this year. (Gazette file)
Signs with the Colorado Springs logo were posted at Strawberry Hill open space earlier this year. (Gazette file) 

The Colorado Springs City Council approved a land swap between The Broadmoor and the city parks department on Tuesday that will give Colorado Springs more than 480 acres of land and trail easements in exchange for the 189.5-acre parcel known as Strawberry Fields.

The council voted 6-3 to pass the resolution. Bill Murray, Helen Collins and Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler cast the dissenting votes.

Moments before the council voted, several people sat silently holding up small cards with a picture of a strawberry that said, "Just vote no."

The city will receive more than 208 acres, allowing hikers and bikers access to the top of Mount Muscoco in North Cheyenne Cañon Park. It also will get 156 acres near the Manitou Incline and lower Barr Trail, plus several small easements throughout the western part of the city.

The Broadmoor plans to build a riding stable and picnic area on nine acres of the Strawberry Fields property, allowing the city parks to manage the rest of the land in southwest Colorado Springs. The Broadmoor is owned by the Anschutz Corp., whose Clarity Media Group owns The Gazette.

Backers of the land exchange addressed the council shortly after city parks director Karen Palus presented the resolution to the more than 100 people who packed the council chambers at City Hall.

Multiple councilmembers questioned Palus before public comments period began. Murray wondered why more work had not been done before the council took action on the land swap.

"Why can't the council do the due diligence process before we give permission?" he asked. "Why are we doing this today? Why this sense of urgency?"

Councilman Keith King, who made the motion to pass the resolution, said the latest version does not allow The Broadmoor the ability to stray from what it promised.

"There are many terms, conditions and restrictions that are in play," King said.

Palus pointed out key changes to the resolution during her presentation, saying they ensure The Broadmoor remains a good steward of the Strawberry Fields parcel. The resolution states that "environmental studies, survey work, title examination and other reviews must be completed prior to closing."

The deal also includes a conservation easement for Strawberry Fields which will be held by the Palmer Land Trust to block future development of the property. Rebecca Jewett, the Land Trust's executive director, said conservation easements "are what we do," pointing out that the nonprofit holds 118 conservation easements in 10 counties in southeastern Colorado.

Several of those who spoke in favor of the trade during public comment said The Broadmoor will provide "good stewardship" of Strawberry Fields.

"The Broadmoor will improve the condition of the land while allowing public access," said Dave Adair. "We are actually gaining public land."

"Right now that's not being done very well," said longtime Colorado Springs resident Jeff Hanson, who said he has used Strawberry Fields since he was "a little kid."

But that did not satisfy everyone.

Over the last several months, several Colorado Springs residents, business owners and others spoke out against the land exchange. On Tuesday, they echoed what was said on at a town hall last week organized by Murray, saying the land exchange is not a good deal for Colorado Springs.

Kent Obee told the council Tuesday that swapping an almost 190-acre piece of land that has not been properly maintained for much more land is unwise.

"We can't maintain 190 acres," he said. "Why are we taking on 370?"

Bob Falcone, a past president of the Friends of Cheyenne Cañon, compared Strawberry Fields to the largest piece of property The Broadmoor will give the city, the 208 acres near Mount Muscoco. He called that land "steep, eroded and hardly manageable by most people."

"It's hardly worth giving up so much to gain so little," Falcone said.

Richard Skorman, who has led the push to stop the land exchange, once again said the issue should go to a vote of the people.

Broadmoor president and CEO Jack Damioli made one last promise to the council before it voted.

"The land exchange does not deserve the controversy or the criticism that has come from some," he said. "If this land exchange goes through, you have my word that we will live up to every obligation."

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