The proposed land exchange between The Broadmoor and the city of Colorado Springs is one step closer to approval, despite efforts by opponents to delay, modify or kill the deal.
The Trails and Open Space Coalition has formally endorsed the swap. It will be considered by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board later this month, and go to City Council for a final decision in early April.
But backers of the proposal might not have considered one potential stumbling block. Here’s a verbatim quote from the city’s website: “In 1885 the citizens of Colorado Springs voted to buy 618.64 acres of land from the First National Bank of Colorado Springs. A portion of this purchase encompassed the South Cañon area including Strawberry Fields.”
City practice in such cases has been simple: Decisions made by a vote of the people can only be altered or reversed by a subsequent vote. That reasoning was applied to the City Auditorium and Memorial Health System, both acquired by voter mandate. However, city officials have contended that the transfer is a trade, not a sale, and therefore does not require voter assent.
The Broadmoor hotel would transfer 155 acres at the top of Ruxton Avenue to the city, including land adjacent to the Manitou Incline and Barr Trail. In addition, The Broadmoor would hand over 9 acres along the southern boundary of Bear Creek Park, as well as 208 acres located along the southwest boundary of North Cheyenne Cañon Park. The city would also get various trail easements, allowing for the future construction of a backcountry trail extending from Garden of the Gods Park to Cheyenne Mountain State Park.
In exchange, The Broadmoor would get .55 acres at the base of the Incline, as well as 189 acres of largely undeveloped parkland, now part of North Cheyenne Cañon Park known as Strawberry Fields, where the hotel might develop a riding stable, picnic area and outdoor event venue. The remaining acreage would be protected by a conservation easement.
The proposal has led to angry bickering among trails, parks and open space advocates, who have historically been united in their policy objectives.
Nearby residents mostly oppose the deal. A social media campaign against the proposal has garnered more than 2,500 signatures.
“It’s not a matter of what The Broadmoor may gain, but what the people of the city might lose.” Richard Skorman
A meeting hosted by the Parks Department to discuss the swap last week drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 people. Opponents decried the swap as a foolish giveaway, accusing the city of handing over historic parkland to The Broadmoor and getting little of value in return. Supporters lauded The Broadmoor as a careful steward of its property, and said the deal ensures public access in perpetuity to the Incline and Barr Trail.
Such anger has dismayed senior officials at the hotel. While none will speak on the record, in keeping with the extraordinary public reticence of hotel owner Phil Anschutz, they’re concerned and baffled. The facts, they believe, are indisputable.
The Broadmoor and its owners have helped create modern Colorado Springs. Far from being aloof and apart from the city’s action and passion, they’ve been doers and creators. In the brief time that Anschutz has owned The Broadmoor, his eponymous charitable foundation has made substantial donations and commitments to important nonprofit endeavors in the city.
As the process has unfolded, it seemed clear that the Trails and Open Space Coalition would effectively decide the issue.
“We approved it subject to some tough conditions,” said TOSC Executive Director Susan Davies. “Any use has to be compatible with protecting conservation values and have a minimal footprint. They’ll only be able to do things that will not degrade the property.”
Davies denied having to choose between trails advocates, who support an expanded trail system, and parks advocates, who bristle at the idea of giving up open space. “We’re actually adding acreage to parks, as well as working to expand the trail system,” she said.
“That’s not to say that it wasn’t a difficult decision — the board was quite divided initially. We’ve also called for more public process as things go forward.”
Meanwhile, former City Councilor and long-time open space advocate Richard Skorman has submitted a proposal to the TOPS working committee to acquire Strawberry Fields as open space from the Parks Department for $1.
Such a paper transaction would enable the city to use funds collected by the city’s dedicated one-tenth of a cent sales tax to build trails, a parking area and restroom facilities at Strawberry Fields. If the committee likes the idea, they’ll forward it to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, which would send it to City Council for a final decision.
“It’s not a matter of what The Broadmoor may gain, but what the people of the city might lose,” said Skorman. “There’s not a comparable accessible area that’s within 10 minutes of the city. It’s a beautiful place that a lot of people could enjoy.”