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Proposed charter change would prevent trade of Colorado Springs city land without vote

October 4, 2016 Updated: October 4, 2016 at 6:21 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)

A proposed change to the City Charter - called POPS for Protect Our Parkland - would require a vote by Colorado Springs residents before any city parks land or open space could be traded, sold or otherwise conveyed.

The proposal will be on the April 4 ballot if at least 15,200 valid signatures are collected, said former Vice Mayor Richard Skorman, a downtown businessman who strongly opposed the city's trade of Strawberry Hill to The Broadmoor in exchange for other trails sections and parks land.

The City Council approved that swap in a 6-3 vote in May. Skorman and others filed a lawsuit in 4th Judicial District Court, asking a judge to block transfer of the 190-acre tract. A ruling has not been made in that case.

The petition push for POPS marks the second effort by the Save Cheyenne coalition to undo the Strawberry Hill swap.

"If placed on the April 4 ballot, we would have a good case to ask a judge to stop action on this (trade) until voters have their say," Skorman said Tuesday. "We would file for an injunction based on the court case as well.

"We want to make sure this doesn't happen again. It sets a dangerous precedent."

Steve Bartolin, chairman of The Broadmoor, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. That five-star hotel complex is owned by the Denver-based Anschutz Corp., whose Clarity Media Group owns The Gazette.

Mayor John Suthers said the proposed charter amendment is "bad public policy."

"The City of Colorado Springs regularly exchanges land for a variety of purposes, including public rights-of-way, park improvements and necessary utility work. Requiring each and every parcel to go before the voters would result in massive administrative delays. Implementing such a process would be extremely detrimental to the way the city has historically improved its parks system."

Skorman was one of the founders of Trails Open Space and Parks, which collects a 0.10 percent sales tax to buy and maintain open space and parks land. City voters approved TOPS in April 1997 and renewed the program in 2003 to last through 2025.

TOPS includes the ban on selling, conveying or trading those lands, the edict POPS would replicate if approved by voters.

The TOPS program has built more than 32 parks and 50 miles of urban trails while preserving more than 6,200 acres of open space using $6 million or so in annual tax money plus grants and donations.

And the rhyming name for the proposed charter change is no accident. A Luce Research poll of citywide likely voters showed that 77.5 percent would support POPS. The poll had a 5 percent margin of error.

If the POPS proposal makes it onto the April ballot, it will become part of an election in which six of the City Council's nine seats will be up for grabs.

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