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A goalie watches a play from across the field during a field hockey game between Arapahoe and a Club Lewy Field Hockey team at John Venezia Community Park. The Colorado Springs Planning Commission voted Thursday to recommended lowering how much parkland housing developers must give to the city when they build homes.

Developers would be required to set aside less land for parks when building new homes under a recommendation approved Thursday by the Colorado Springs Planning Commission. 

The proposal to lower parkland dedication requirements to 5½ acres per 1,000 residents down from 7½ acres per 1,000 people comes at a time when parks and open spaces have been flooded with visitors because of the pandemic. It is also expected to draw opposition from parks and open space advocates when it goes before Colorado Springs City Council in January as part of a package of parkland dedication changes.  The proposed changes would also increase the fees developers will pay when parkland is not available for dedication and requires fees to be spent in the same neighborhood as the housing that triggered their payment. 

"The fact we would even consider lowering the amount (of parkland) is just incredibly stupefying," said Judith Rice-Jones, former member of the city's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and an opponent of the proposal. The decision would go against Gen. William Palmer's vision for the community at a time when the city is approaching its 150th anniversary and should be celebrating his legacy, she said. 

The commission approved changes to parkland requirements for developers, including the lower land requirement, on a 7-1 vote.

"It keeps consistent with the parks master plan," Commission Chairman Scott Hente said. 

The city said in the 2000 and 2014 parks master plans its goal was to provide 3 acres of community parkland per 1,000 residents and 2½ acres of neighborhood parkland per 1,000 people, said Chris Lieber of NES, a consultant hired by the city to work on the parkland dedication changes. The master plan standards do not include city open space, such as Palmer Park, he said. When open space is taken into account, the city provides 37.2 acres per 1,000 residents,  Leiber said. 

Trails and Open Space Coalition Executive Director Susan Davies said previously it makes some sense that the city would start accepting less parkland, even though as an advocate she hates the idea, because the city does not have the funding to develop about 15 parks that have already been dedicated.

Currently, the city is not meeting the 5½-acre standard per 1,000 residents in some areas of the city, even when parks developed and owned by homeowners and special districts are included, Leiber said. 

For example, central Colorado Springs, north of downtown has 3.6 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents and southwest Colorado Springs has 2.9 acres of community and neighborhood parkland per 1,000 residents.

Planning Commissioner Martin Rickett opposed the measure, in part, because the city is not keeping up with 5½-acre standard in all areas and lowering it further erodes how much parkland property will be dedicated over time.

Protect our Parks coalition organizer Kent Obee said he would rather see the city accept land and set it aside for future development than change the standard. 

"I think one of the things the pandemic has done has shown how much the citizens of the city value their parks and open spaces," he said. 

He also noted that the community is trailing other Front Range communities in overall land preservation significantly. 

Colorado Springs has purchased 7,200 acres of open space since 1996, which help makes up the more than 9,000 acres of parkland the city hasl. El Paso County owns 8,000 acres of open space. 

By comparison, Douglas County has set aside more than 63,000 acres of open space since 1994 when a dedicated sales tax passed, The Gazette reported previously. In Jefferson County more than 56,000 acres of open space has been preserved since 1972, according to its website. 

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

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