Known as Strawberry Fields, this meadow is part of the proposed land swap with The Broadmoor.
Known as Strawberry Fields, this meadow is part of the proposed land swap with The Broadmoor.
Strawberry Fields, forever?

Opponents of the Colorado Springs City Council-approved land swap between the city and the Broadmoor Hotel haven’t given up. Thanks to a large cash infusion from an anonymous donor, they’re pursuing a multi-pronged strategy that may delay execution of the swap for years — or even reverse it.

The land swap proposal: The city transfers 189 acres of park land in North Cheyenne Cañon Park to The Broadmoor hotel, subject to multiple conditions. The Broadmoor will build riding stables and a group picnic area on roughly 9 acres of the property, leaving the rest in a natural state, protected by a conservation easement. The city will also transfer .55 acres located near the Cog Railway depot in Manitou Springs to The Broadmoor.

In return, The Broadmoor will transfer to the city 155 acres at the top of Ruxton Canyon including segments of the Incline and Barr Trail, nine acres adjacent to Bear Creek Regional Park on 21st Street, three trail easements near Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and 208 acres along the southwest boundary of Cheyenne Cañon Park.

Four weeks ago opponents filed a complaint in district court contending that city council’s decision to OK the transaction was illegal under state law. Noting that the land had been acquired for the park system in 1885 after an affirmative vote of Colorado Springs residents, opponents argue that council has no power to sell or transfer the property.

“The property was dedicated for park use in 1885, to be held in trust by their city government for the benefit of all of the citizens of Colorado Springs,” the filing states. “Under the terms of this dedication, Strawberry Fields cannot be alienated in any fashion, nor may its use be restricted in the fashion contemplated by the land swap.”

The city had three weeks to respond, but asked for additional time. That request was granted, meaning that the response will probably come after the middle of this month. Opponents expect the city to ask that the case be dismissed and also claim that the complaint is without merit. In any case, the oppsition legal team will ask for another 30 days to respond.

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Oppnents expect a hearing date to be set around the end of October. District Judge Michael McHenry has been assigned the case. A graduate of the University of Colorado Law School, McHenry served as a public defender from 1991-2010,when Gov. Bill Ritter appointed him to the bench.

The attorneys representing the opponents, Bill Louis and Steve Harris, have also filed a lis pendens, defined as “a written notice that a lawsuit has been filed concerning real estate, involving either the title to the property or a claimed ownership interest in it.” It’s intended to serve the same purpose as an injunction, effectively preventing the land swap from going forward.

Led by Richard Skorman, the opposition group is also working on an initiated ballot measure for the April 2017 city elections. The measure is in the process of being drafted, but it’s reasonable to expect that it will both kill the land swap and protect all city parkland with conservation easements, thereby preventing councils both present and future from selling or transferring city parkland and open space without specific voter consent.

Once the measure has been submitted to the City’s Initiative Review Committee, it will take up to 45 days for title to be set, enabling backers to circulate petitions. They have yet to decide whether to frame it as a charter change or an initiated ordinance. The former binds the city more tightly, while the timetable for signature collection is less constrained for the latter.

In any case, they will have to start signature collection immediately after title setting. Given that the April elections are only seven months away, they’ll have to scramble to meet statutory requirements for signatures (approximately 17,500 for a charter amendment, 19,500 for an initiated ordinance), as well as the February deadline for turning in petitions.

If paid signature collectors are used to circulate petitions, it will likely cost $35,000 or more. The campaign reportedly has more than $30,000 in the bank, and is actively raising more.