Dorchester Park, which has become a hangout for homeless people over the years, will not be among city parks voters could protect in November, making it easier to repurpose the property south of downtown.
Colorado Springs City Council President Richard Skorman said the park could eventually be used by a nonprofit for an intake center that could provide social services or a drug rehabilitation center.
The city does not have any official plans for the property, but helping homeless people is the wish of the descendants of Joseph and Mark Dorr, who donated the park near Nevada Avenue and Interstate 25 to the city in 1892, he said.
Taking the park property off the list of parks that could be protected from sale or trade through ballot measures "was simply to make the wish of the heirs a little more viable," Skorman said. The city is not considering trading the property as part of a land deal, he said.
To make redevelopment of Dorchester Park possible, the city has filed a quiet title lawsuit against descendants of the Dorr family, Skorman said. When the Dorrs donated the land they stipulated that if the city did not use the property as a free park, its ownership would revert to the family. The city is working to identify the many descendants of the donors through the suit and ensure the city has free and clear title to the property, Skorman said.
Janet Dorr, who represents some of the family, declined to comment.
Dorchester Park is one of several properties the city recently took off the list of parks that could be protected by two ballot measures. One ballot question would ask voters to require an election before parks could be sold, swapped or conveyed. The other less protective question, would require a supermajority of councilors to approve of a land deal involving a park. The question that receives the most votes will be enacted.
Other properties taken off the list are along the Shooks Run trail corridor which extends from about East Fountain Boulevard, southeast of downtown, to Patty Jewett Golf Course. The city needed to remove the Shooks Run properties to give the staff flexibility to develop the corridor, said Karen Palus, director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services. Developing the long-term vision for the corridor could involve land exchanges, she said, previously.
City park properties purchased with dedicated tax revenue, such as Red Rock Canyon Open Space, also are not included on the list because an election is already required by city ordinance to approve land deals.
A troubled park
Dorchester Park requires more attention from city park staff than any other neighborhood park because of excessive trash and vandalism, among other problems, said Kurt Schroeder, park maintenance and operations manager.
"It’s been an ongoing problem for at least five years, if not longer," he said.
City park staff, contractors or volunteers work in the park five days a week to ensure trash is picked up, he said.
The city fenced off the two picnic shelters in the park at the request of Colorado Springs police because they had turned into centers for illegal activities at night, he said. The park staff also had to take down the swings because of regular vandalism, he said.
Homeless residents Ron and Kelly Stutzman said they have observed problems with drugs, alcohol, prostitution and fights in the last few months since they have been staying in the area. Kelly Stutzman said she would like to see the park used for a homeless shelter, where families could stay together in the same room.
Kelly Stutzman sees a need for family housing after staying at the Salvation Army shelter on Sierra Madre Street without her husband, Ron, because the dormitory-style shelter requires him to sleep in a separate room, she said. Instead, he's been sleeping in the family's Pathfinder, he said.
But other homeless residents don't want to see the park redeveloped because it would further limit where they can spend their days.
"This is where everybody kicks it," Carl Johnson III said.
A need for options
A day center in Dorchester Park that would integrate services, such as behavioral health treatment and social services, and provide a place for homeless people to spend time during the day, could fill a need in the community, said Jennifer Mariano, director of homeless programs for Community Health Partnership, the administrator for the Pikes Peak Continuum of Care. However, there is no conversation about providing a new day center among nonprofits in town right now.
If the day center was not provided on the property and the park was redeveloped, the community should think about an alternative for homeless people, she said.
"There needs to be options and places for them to go, you can't just slide them out of the way," she said. If no alternative is provided, they would likely just scatter into different parks, she said.
Springs Rescue Mission, just north of Dorchester Park, already provides an array of services, including meals, laundry services, overnight shelter and medical services, and the nonprofit could be a partner in offering additional services in the park, said Travis Williams, chief development officer for the mission. But there are no definite plans, he said.
"We are always exploring different opportunities and seeing where those might lead," he said.
However, the nonprofit's main focus is finishing it campus, which will include a 200-seat kitchen and dining facility and turning the parking lot into a courtyard, he said.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the year the park was donated to the city of Colorado Springs.