It’s already July, and reporters obliged to cover City Hall don’t have much to do. Mayor John Suthers and City Council President Richard Skorman have yet to get into a public fight; City Councilor Bill Murray hasn’t found any new targets for his wrath; real estate prices continue to soar and life is good for many of us in the Pikes Peak region.
Our booming economy means that city council has to deal with prosperity’s busywork. The last 20-page agenda included apartment development plans, minor annexations, appeals of administrative decisions, renewal of the Comcast franchise and food truck parking. And while Comcast is still a big deal for some, the franchise concept seems archaic and irrelevant. In 10 years, will anybody care?
Although things are placid enough on the surface, we’ll soon see fireworks. It seems likely that Skorman and Suthers are engaged in separate endeavors that may determine the long-term future of Colorado Springs. This isn’t a fight, but rather the complementary attempts of both men to crown their careers in public service with lasting civic achievements.
As Colorado Springs stumbled through two recessions and an increasingly dysfunctional city government in the first 15 years of the 21st century, Suthers watched in dismay. Working at the state Capitol as a U.S. attorney and Colorado attorney general, he saw Denver, Fort Collins and Boulder surge ahead while the Springs floundered. He probably had some Trumpian thoughts, as in, “I could fix the mess!”
But he kept his mouth shut.
Since taking office in 2015, Suthers has quickly dealt with problems that bedeviled his predecessors. Road funding? Check. Stormwater problems with Pueblo, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state? We’re working on it. Sustainable stormwater funding? In progress.
It’s fine to fix inherited messes, but leaders are remembered for their creations. And just as General William Jackson Palmer is remembered for creating a city, Suthers’ legacy can be far more than pothole-free streets.
Let’s look at the Banning Lewis Ranch.
Negotiations between Nor’wood and the administration concerning the extensive revision of the BLR annexation agreement have been underway for some time. First approved in 1989, the onerous terms of the agreement have been blamed for sterilizing the property. Urban sprawl continued, as developers bypassed the ranch and built elsewhere.
With BLR now owned by the region’s most astute (and enviably liquid) developers, the time for development may be close at hand.
Our booming economy means that city council has to deal with prosperity’s busywork.
While it’s clear that Nor’wood will make a substantial open-space donation to the city, the rest is up for grabs. Will all the players come together and create the first new American city of the 21st century, a field of dreams that will reinvent greenfield development? Or will they settle for Briargate South, another iteration of residential separated-use zoning funded by metro taxing districts? Such suburbs are lovely places to live and be bored, but require cities to fund and hire workers for the remote fire/police stations, all while generating little general fund tax revenue to support such infrastructure.
When the BLR deal arrives at the council dais, it seems likely a progressive five-member majority (Skorman, Murray, Yolanda Avila, Jill Gaebler and Tom Strand) will decide its fate. Strand may be the swing vote here, especially significant in this case since the mayor’s veto power does not extend to land use decisions. A 5-4 vote is enough — no supermajority required.
It’s up to Suthers, Jenkins and city council. BLR: field of dreams or field of schemes?
Skorman’s legacy is all around us. He was one of the primary drivers of the 1997 Trails and Open Space Coalition initiative, giving the city a dedicated revenue stream to purchase significant parcels of open space. Section 16, Red Rocks, Blodgett Peak, Stratton, Bluestem Prairie — it’s a very long list. Both as a city councilor and as a private citizen, Skorman has been an untiring advocate for parks and open space, transparent government and a just, inclusive community.
So besides getting the best possible outcome for BLR, what’s on Skorman’s to-do list? He’s not one to bludgeon his peers with his own agenda — collaboration, gentle persuasion and amiable honesty are his only weapons.
He has four years to go on city council, so he’s just getting started. The Martin Drake Power Plant, park funding/protection, downtown/Westside/southeastern redevelopment — halcyon days indeed!