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Annette Biek, 4, plays in water fountains at the splash pad at John Venezia Park in Colorado Springs on Saturday, June 27, 2020. Colorado Springs reached a  high of 88 degrees on Saturday, with temperatures reaching a high of 91 degrees for Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. For COVID-19 safety measures breaks occur every hour for 30 minutes while staff disinfects the area. Venezia Park is on the lengthy list of parks that would be protect by two ballot questions. (Chancey Bush/ The Gazette)

Colorado Springs voters will decide between two competing questions on the November ballot aimed at protecting city parkland: One that would require a referendum to approve sales and swaps of parkland and one that would require seven council members, an extraordinary majority of the board, to approve deals involving parks. 

The city council approved both questions for the November ballot on a 5-4 vote Tuesday. Councilwoman Jill Gaebler was the swing vote for both questions, offering support for allowing voters to make the decision. 

"We, as a community and a nation, have very smart voters," she said, while discussing the questions Monday.

The question requiring a public vote to approve parkland sales, swaps or conveyances was inspired by the city's 2016 deal to trade Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor for other properties. The resident-led Protect our Parks coalition worked with the city for months to get the question on the ballot and the council informally agreed in June to put the coalition-backed question before voters. 

Councilman Wayne Williams proposed the less-restrictive question requiring a seven-member majority of council to approve parkland deals and it gained support from enough council members to move forward in July. Williams proposed the question, saying it provides more protection for parks than currently exists and flexibility to act on land deals quickly. Requiring an election to approve parkland deals could slow or shut them down, Williams previously said. 

The question that receives the most votes in November will be enacted. Council members also agreed to hold a lottery to determine the order of the questions on the ballot.  

Councilwoman Yolanda Avila raised concerns that Williams' question would confuse voters.  

"I am somewhat saddened because I think the voice of the people has been suppressed a little bit," she said. 

Gaebler defended Williams' question Monday, saying it was not surreptitious or last minute, and she appreciated it because if a seven-member council majority had been required to approve the Strawberry Fields land deal, the swap wouldn't have happened, she said. 

Protect our Parks advocate Kent Obee called on council members to abstain from approving the competing ballot question because he fears an advertising campaign backing the seven council votes to approve park deals. 

"Literally, we might be outgunned," he said. 

The Trails and Open Space Coalition board supports the question requiring seven council votes to approve land deals, in part, because of their complexity, said Susan Davies, executive director of the group. 

"Representative government is going to serve the parks system overall to the best degree," Davies told council Tuesday. 

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or (719) 429-9264.

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