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Opponents file suit to block Colorado Springs land swap

August 1, 2016 Updated: October 4, 2016 at 1:58 pm
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Colorado Springs businessman and former Colorado Springs City Council member Richard Skorman has been giving tours to those who want to learn more about Strawberry Fields. He looks over the meadow and views of Strawberry Fields from a high vantage point on Tuesday, March 29, 2016. (photo by Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette)

The battle over Strawberry Fields is headed for the courts.

A citizen's group opposed to a land trade involving the 190-acre open space in Colorado Springs' western foothills filed suit Monday in 4th Judicial District Court asking a judge to block its transfer to The Broadmoor. 

In a 13-page complaint, the nonprofit Save Cheyenne argues the City Council lacked the authority to void the city's October 1885 dedication of Strawberry Fields and the neighboring North Cheyenne Cañon Park as public parkland.

"The only way dedicated park land can be disposed of is essentially by abandonment or by finding that the land is impossible to use for its intended purpose," attorney Bill Louis of Colorado Springs said in summarizing the lawsuit's primary argument. "Nothing under dedication theory authorizes disposition by vote."

A secondary claim argues the trade would at least require voters to sign off through a citywide vote before any land is traded away.

City Council authorized the trade with a 6-3 vote in May, saying it was exercising its powers under the state charter.

The lawsuit names the city, Mayor John Suthers and former city Real Estate Services Manager Ron Carlintine as defendants.

City spokeswoman Kim Melchor said the city hadn't seen the lawsuit and offered no further comment.

The Gazette was unable to reach Broadmoor President and Chief Executive Officer Jack Damioli for comment.

Strawberry Fields is the popular name for a parcel that shows up in city land records as Strawberry Hill.

The Broadmoor has said it intends to build an equestrian center and picnic area for up to 100 people on a 9-acre swath of the land. The rest would remain open to the public. The resort is owned by the Denver-based Anschutz Corp., whose Clarity Media Group owns The Gazette.

In exchange for Strawberry Fields, The Broadmoor will give the city a variety of parcels in return, including the summit of Mt. Muscoco in North Cheyenne Cañon Park, land underlying The Manitou Incline and Barr Trail, and a small parcel in Bear Creek Regional Park.

The resort also agreed to grant the city an easement for portions of its planned Chamberlain Trail, which, if completed, would provide a corridor to Cheyenne Mountain State Park.

The legal action marks the latest salvo in a contentious debate that led to packed public hearings over the deal.

Save Cheyenne is headed by Richard Skorman, a former mayoral candidate who, alongside open space advocate Kent Obee, resigned from the board of the Trails and Open Space Coalition over the group's support of the land trade.

The group also plans to seek a ballot measure that would prohibit the city from selling parks or open space without a citywide vote, Skorman said.

Although Save Cheyenne argues such an obligation already exists, a city charter amendment or ballot initiative would "clean up the gray area," said Louis.

Skorman said the group is likely to begin gathering signatures by the end of the summer, aiming to have something before voters in on the April ballot.

Should the lawsuit fail and the group gets enough signatures to for a ballot measure, the swap could be delayed until after the April 2017 city election, Skorman said.

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