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COLUMN: Another battle brewing over parks in Colorado Springs?

By: Robert D. Loevy
January 11, 2018 Updated: January 11, 2018 at 4:05 am
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The proposal to build a sports and event center in Antlers Park behind the Antlers Hotel opens old wounds for neighborhood advocates and park lovers in Colorado Springs.

There is a long history in the city of good government groups, such as the League of Women Voters, fighting hard to fend off attempts to build non-park public facilities - highways, power lines, sports centers, etc. - in any of the parks given to the city by city-founder General William J. Palmer. That includes not only Antlers Park but also Monument Valley Park, North Cheyenne Canyon Park, and Palmer Park.

The magic words here are "reversionary clause." General Palmer provided in his will that any park lands he gave to the city that were subsequently devoted to non-park uses would revert from the city to Palmer's heirs. Thus it was that for many years the North End Home Owners' Association, now the Old North End Neighborhood, worked to prevent the City of Colorado Springs from extending W. Fontanero Street across Monument Valley Park and connecting up with W. Fontanero Street on the west side of the city.

The neighborhood association opposed connecting W. Fontanero Street across the park because of the heavy traffic it would bring to Fontanero St. in the Old North End. Park lovers joined the battle to save the park's peace and quiet. Thus the association watched carefully in 1962 as the City approved building an underpass for W. Fontanero Street under the Denver and Rio Grande Western railroad tracks. This would facilitate extending W. Fontanero Street across Monument Valley Park and connecting it with W. Fontanero Street through the North End.

Then, in 1966, the Old North End criticized an effort by City Councilmember Harold Hawks to get rid of the reversionary clauses in lands given to the City by General Palmer for parks. This was considered a prelude to, once again, having the City extend W. Fontanero Street across Monument Valley Park. In 1971 the League of Women Voters and the Springs Area Beautiful Association (SPABA) filed suit against the City of Colorado Springs to prevent the City from extending W. Fontanero Street across Monument Valley Park. The suit sought to enforce stipulations in General William Palmer's will that land given by him to the City for parks could only be used for park purposes. The suit sought to settle this contentious issue once and for all.

The case ended in victory for the League of Women Voters and SPABA. The Colorado Springs City Council agreed to a declaratory judgment by the court that the City would not "engage in any activities which will result in sale, disposition of, loss of or diminished use of" the parks in question.

That guaranteed that W. Fontanero Street could never be extended across Monument Valley Park. If such an attempt was made, the land in the park would immediately become the property of the Palmer heirs.

According to the newspapers, Judge Patrick M. Hinton handed down the judgment agreed to by the City. His order said the city should "at all times in the future, act in full compliance with the restrictions and conditions contained in General Palmer's deeds."

Mary Kyer, president of the Colorado Springs chapter of the League of Women Voters, called the City's agreement to the court decision "a great day for Colorado Springs voters." Richard Bradley, a Professor of Physics at Colorado College and the head of SPABA, said those who brought the suit were "grateful" to Mayor Andrew Marshall and the City Council for "taking this far sighted approach" in accepting the agreement.

Of course all that happened almost a half century ago. Are neighborhood groups and civic organizations ready to battle for the sanctity of General Palmer's park gifts at this later date? Will the League of Women Voters, or the Council of Neighborhoods and Organizations (CONO), or other groups rise up and once again take the city government to court?

Or will efforts to revitalize the downtown economy and take advantage of a $28 million economic development grant from the state to build the sports and events center at long last break General Palmer's will?

The stage is set for a renewal of the Great Parks Battle of 1971, if the neighborhoods and the civic organizations are ready to fight it.

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Bob Loevy is a retired political scientist at Colorado College and lives in the Old North End.

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