Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Smoking banned in Colorado Springs parks, watering boosted, park expansion OK'd

By Jesse Byrnes, jesse.byrnes@gazette.com - Updated: July 24, 2013 at 6:44 am

In an extended session that lasted more than five hours Tuesday, the Colorado Springs City Council didn't just ban retail sales of recreational marijuana, it also banned smoking in public parks, modified city watering restrictions in favor of residents and, to the delight of many, expanded Ute Valley Park.

What do the votes mean?

Smoking

The City Council voted 6-2 to ban smoking in all city parks, including trails and open space areas.

The ban is meant to protect city properties from fire danger, decrease litter - especially from cigarette butts - and reduce "detrimental" secondhand smoke, said Karen Palus, parks director.

The Parks Department, working with the city attorney, reviewed a list of approaches for limiting smoking in public parks - Arvada bans smoking in all parks, and smoking is banned along Pearl Street in Boulder, for example.

Ultimately, they decided on a general ban with some exceptions for areas that don't pose a fire danger, such as parking lots, which would be designated by the parks director.

Violators can be fined up to $500 and spend 90 days in jail, though Palus sees the ban as an opportunity to alert the public to the effects of secondhand smoke.

Councilwoman Helen Collins, who doesn't smoke, voted against the ban. She questioned enforcement and called the ban a limit on personal freedom.

"It's really a personal rights issue," Collins said.

City Council President Keith King, who also voted against the ban, referenced similar laws that ban smoking in bars and restaurants.

"This seems to me to be akin to that, but this is public property, not private property," King said.

"This is public property. We all own it and are part of it," Councilman Joel Miller said. "Limiting someone's ability to smoke there doesn't necessarily limit their ability to enjoy the park," he said, noting that he voted for the measure "purely on an inhalation basis."

The ban didn't sit well with some park users.

"Throwing a cigarette butt is one thing, but smoking? If I want to kill myself, I can," said Michael Street, 21, who works downtown and was enjoying a cigarette Tuesday at Acacia Park.

"I just think that it's a shame," said vacationing New Mexico resident Ronnie Adams, 64, who stopped to sit and smoke his pipe at a park table.

"Too many people are getting involved in other people's business. . I ain't gonna hurt nobody," Adams said.

While everyone wants a family friendly environment downtown, "your personal right to smoke ends at my nose," Tim O'Donnell, who leads the Downtown Residents Coalition of Colorado Springs, said at the hearing.

"I think it's fantastic," said Dan Gwinn of Florence, who stopped at Acacia Park with his wife, Pat, and their two granddaughters to visit the Uncle Wilber Fountain.

"It'll be great to come out here and not have to worry about secondhand smoke," Pat Gwinn added.

Updating current park signage to reflect the new rules will cost up to $8,000.

Councilman Merv Bennett was absent for the vote.

Water restrictions

City Council members voted 7-1, with Bennett absent, to reduce watering restrictions.

Watering remains limited to two days a week, but the amount of water residents can use without being hit with a surcharge was increased.

Higher water rates will now kick in at 2,500 cubic feet of use - about 18,701 gallons - up from 2,000 cubic feet or about 14,961 gallons. It also lowers the fee for those who go over 2,500 cubic feet to an extra 25 percent instead of doubling the price.

Councilwoman Jill Gaebler voted against the measure.

"I think that we have a good momentum going forward . and I want to continue on that momentum," Gaebler said.

The measure will take effect Aug. 1.

July water use will be billed using the existing pricing structure.

The change was recommended based on higher water levels from late-season snowpack accumulation, less demand attributed to a drop in temperature and consumption, higher water yields and increased storage, said Gary Bostrom, chief water services officer for Colorado Springs Utilities.

As of July 14, the city had reached 57 percent of storage capacity for 1.8 years worth of water and is on track to exceed its 5.8 billion gallon water savings goal by 556 million gallons.

"We set this ordinance in March, and the outlook looked pretty drastic, and it was really because of the grace of God that we got the snowpack to put us in there," Councilman Don Knight said.

Still, water levels are below average for the second year in a row, and Colorado Springs Utilities doesn't expect to see levels high enough to justify dropping all restrictions this year.

Knight wants residents to know more about their water restrictions sooner in the year.

"We told the people so late. I would like to be able to tell the citizens now to prepare for next season," he said.

Council member Collins said that residents should check their water use on the Colorado Springs Utilities website so they aren't surprised when they get their monthly bill.

TOPS funding

Ute Valley Park is about to expand by 200 acres, and park users won't have to worry about trespassing.

The City Council voted 7-1 to use up to $6.4 million in voter-approved Trails, Open Space and Parks funds to buy land from technology company Hewlett-Packard.

A burst of cheers erupted in council chambers when the votes were tallied.

Volunteers and park users had hoped the city would sign off on the park expansion, which has been in the master plan since 1997.

Ute Valley Park is known for its mountain biking trails and views of the Front Range.

For years, the park was mostly used by neighbors, but it has become a regional draw, attracting as many as 500 visitors in a four-hour period.

The expansion is consistent with all park plans and the trails master plan, said Chris Lieber, TOPS project manager.

A trail is planned to connect the park with the Pikes Peak Greenway.

TOPS is a one-tenth of a percent sales tax, or a penny on every $10 purchase in the city, and 60 percent of the money collected must be used to buy open space.

Hewlett-Packard's property abuts Ute Valley Park, roughly between Popes Valley Drive and Rockrimmon Boulevard.

Although private, the area attracts hundreds of bikers, hikers, runners and residents with dogs every day.

Most visitors aren't aware they are trespassing on private property, Lieber said.

The city will acquire the land in two phases.

The first phase will be bought in August, and the second phase will be bought in January 2015.

Great Outdoors Colorado has pledged $600,000 in lottery funds, and officials hope to get more grant money, Lieber said. The Trust for Public Land and Friends of Ute Valley Park are trying to raise $150,000.

"I think it's a fabulous project," council member Gaebler said.

Council member Bennett was absent for the vote, and council member Collins voted no.

-

Gazette reporter Monica Mendoza contributed to this story.

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