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Colorado Springs Parks Board OKs master plans, but Strawberry Hill development remains on hold

May 10, 2018 Updated: May 11, 2018 at 1:10 pm
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Pictured: The Strawberry Fields area with Mt. Cutler in the background. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette)

The Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation Advisory Board approved master plans Thursday for Strawberry Hill and North Cheyenne Cañon Park.

The Broadmoor won't break ground at Strawberry Hill, however, while a lawsuit seeking to rescind a controversial land swap between the hotel and city is pending.

The lawsuit, currently under consideration by the Colorado Supreme Court, was initially filed in El Paso County District Court by members of the local nonprofit, Save Cheyenne, now headed by Kent Obee. Obee said Thursday the court could decide whether to hear the case within the next two months. If it’s accepted, it might take a year and a half to conclude, he said.

The master plans outline visions for the two properties, catalog resources and highlight potential problems. Both have seen considerable opposition from residents, though many also spoke in favor of the plans Thursday morning. The board unanimously approved the Strawberry Hill master plan and approved the North Cheyenne Cañon master plan, 6-to-3.

Obee, a former Parks Board member, originally called for the board to delay its votes on the plans. He was joined by six former board members who signed a letter outlining their objections. Obee’s wife, Ruth Obee, another member of Save Cheyenne, echoed that sentiment to the board, but still called Thursday’s outcome a small victory.

“Our lawsuit, in a way, prevailed,” Ruth Obee said. “They’re not moving forward. We put up a barricade.”

That delay in construction came with The Broadmoor’s blessing. Jack Damioli, president and CEO of The Broadmoor, and Chris Lieber, an owner of NES Inc., the company contracted by the hotel to develop the master plan, told the board that construction can wait until the lawsuit is concluded.

Now that the board has approved the master plan, however, Damioli said The Broadmoor will continue planning how it will build out the property so the company is ready to go once the court has ruled.

In the meantime, Strawberry Hill will remain open to the public, Lieber said.

The state’s Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the land swap between the city and The Broadmoor — Colorado Springs traded more than 180 acres at Strawberry Hill to the hotel for 371 acres split between 14 parcels in February. After that ruling, Obee appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court to hear the case.

The Broadmoor is planning to build a picnic area and horse stable on an 8.4-acre parcel, which sits in a meadow on the property’s north side. That flat, accessible and popular area is the only part of the land that won’t remain open to the public. The rest will remain available to the public under a conservation easement.

Several people on Thursday said they were concerned they would be blocked from the area’s trails and that The Broadmoor’s development diverting traffic to neighborhoods in the area. Those concerns, and others have been echoed by many people throughout the public comment process for both master plans.

But the majority of people Thursday spoke in favor of The Broadmoor’s plans and said the hotel will be a good steward of the land by providing flood and wildfire mitigation which the city can’t afford.

Donna Strom, another member of Save Cheyenne, agreed, despite her opposition to the master plan.

“I think The Broadmoor can do everything better,” Strom said. “But it goes back to the principle of the issue. The ends don’t justify the means.”

Strawberry Hill, southwest of the intersection of Evans and Mesa avenues, has been open to the public since residents voted in 1885 to buy the land for $5,000. Many have argued the land shouldn’t have been traded to The Broadmoor without a public vote. In addition, the appraisal process used in the swap was brought into question after the Colorado Board of Real Estate Appraisers penalized the employee contracted by the city for Strawberry Hill’s valuation, saying he lacked documentation to support his findings.

If the Colorado Supreme Court decides not to hear Save Cheyenne’s case, Obee said Thursday he won’t appeal to federal court.

The master plan for North Cheyenne Cañon Park recommends paving a stretch of Gold Camp Road. It also recommends closing the majority of the canyon’s parking pull-offs, except at trailheads. Critics Thursday criticized the plan for being too long and vague.

The last plan for the park was finished in 1999. Such plans have a typical life span of up to 15 years.

The Broadmoor is owned by the Denver-based Anschutz Corp., whose Clarity Media Group owns The Gazette.

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