It was a simple, brief agenda item: “11c: A Resolution Authorizing a Land Exchange between the City of Colorado Springs and The Broadmoor.”
But for people gathered in Council Chambers Tuesday night, there was a lot riding on the outcome of the Colorado Springs City Council’s decision.
The Broadmoor’s new stables and wedding pavilion were in the balance, as was the opposition’s desire to keep open space free of development.
The city’s presentation took an hour, and each side — those for and against — of the proposed land swap were given an hour.
Rhetoric flowed freely.
Broadmoor CEO Jack Damioli gave his word that the hotel would keep every one of its promises. Attorney Bill Louis scornfully dismissed the city’s contention that its status as a home rule city allowed it to trade away parkland acquired before 1909. Opponents quietly displayed small signs with a simple message: Vote No.
Richard Skorman, Patricia Seator, Jim Bensberg and a dozen others were impassioned in defense of the long-ignored wildland so beloved by residents of the area.
Their cause might have been just and righteous, but they had no shot. When proponents made their case, they brought out the heavy artillery.
Positions on both sides have so hardened that no compromise is available.
In an unprecedented “parade of power,” a dozen members of the city’s power elite trudged forward, briefly addressed Council and yielded to the next player. Kyle Hybl came forward, as did Damioli, Cog Manager Spencer Wren, Regional Business Alliance CEO Dirk Draper, Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Doug Price, former Manitou Mayor Marcy Morrison (now board chair of the Trails and Open Space Coalition), the Housing and Building Association’s Renee Zentz and the old lion himself, developer Steve Schuck.
It was a formidable lineup. The message to councilors was clear: Oppose the land swap and you can forget about establishment support in any future election. You won’t get a nickel from Colorado Springs Forward. The Broadmoor won’t host a fundraiser for you. You’re invisible now — so how does it feel?
“You can’t believe what it was like sitting up there on the dais,” said one dissident councilor. “If anybody was wavering before the vote, it would have been hard to go against them.”
Council approved the resolution by a 6-3 vote, but that might herald the beginning of a new and even more passionate battle.
Strawberry Fields supporters joined Skorman and Seator on Rico’s back patio after the vote, as did the three councilors who voted against the swap: Helen Collins, Bill Murray and Jill Gaebler.
A cheerful Skorman passed out free slices of pizza to everyone in attendance, swearing that the fight had just begun.
“We already have $35,000 in the bank,” he said. “We’re going to petition a vote onto the [April 2017] ballot.”
To do so, the Strawberry Fielders will need to collect approximately 20,000 signatures from registered voters who live in Colorado Springs.
Most campaigns depend upon paid signature collectors, not dedicated volunteers, to pull off such a petition drive. If Skorman’s Army is willing to spend months collecting signatures, they’ll gain credibility and save a lot of money — maybe as much as $150,000.
Is Skorman bluffing? I don’t think so. It seems to me that positions on both sides have so hardened that no compromise is available.
The Broadmoor has no reason to make further concessions — and even if the issue is on the ballot next April, the hotel and its powerful allies would likely prevail.
But here’s a question: What are we actually fighting about? It’s not about a stable and a picnic pavilion, but about our shared sense of place.
Time has softened the zig-zag gash in the side of Cheyenne Mountain that Spencer Penrose created by building a road to the site of his vast tomb. At the time, it was seen as the defiling act of a megalomaniac, Spec’s way of thumbing his nose at the hoi polloi. But today, the Shrine of the Sun is a tourist attraction, not a weirdly pharaonic gravesite.
Strawberry Fields is the kind of space that builders, developers, bureaucrats and orderly folks don’t like — unregulated, unpoliced and uncontrolled. It’s a slice of 19th-century Colorado that has somehow endured for 130 years.
What do we love about Colorado Springs? We love the sense that discoveries await, that undisturbed wilderness is literally at our doorstep.
Last year, riding up Gold Camp Road early one morning, I passed a car parked on the side of the road. The driver said something in an urgent whisper, but I didn’t pay any attention. A minute later, I understood — mama bear and three cubs. I stopped; the bears ambled by and vanished in the scrub oak.
And yeah, Dorothy, that’s why we’re not in Kansas anymore.