COLORADO SPRINGS — A battle lasting several years in Colorado Springs will be on the ballots for voters to decide in November: How should the city approve large park transfers?
The answer, on the ballot, comes in two parts: 2B and 2C.
2B would require a super-majority of city councilors (seven of the nine) as well as a vote of the people in order to approve a parkland swap.
2C would only require the super-majority of city councilors to be approved.
“Whenever you exchange parkland, it should not be an easy decision,” said Susan Davies, the executive director of the Trails and Open Spaces Coalition in the city.
Davies supports 2C over 2B because she sees asking voters as a step that is both costly and limits the city’s flexibility in making deals for park land and development. Currently, park land transfers go through the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the board only brings recommendations for land transfers where the city would get more land than it’s giving up.
“These are just so important it seems to me having an apolitical, volunteer group, like you with the parks advisory board, and then your elected representatives who have to respond to their constituents. It’s a good process,” Davies said.
Davies also is concerned about the election process itself. Running a single election can cost over $300,000. With a struggling parks budget, she says that money could be better spent.
“Our parks general fund support is still less than it was in 2007. Sure, [an election] is worth the cost, but if you don’t have the money then what?” she questioned.
Supporters of 2B say, there have been too many parks lost and too many close calls, even with supermajority support on some.
“Sure, you might have to wait a while, but in my mind, the parks are really a public trust. Once they’re sold, they’re gone forever,” said Richard Skorman, the Colorado Springs City Council president who has been fighting land swaps for years.
He points to half of Stratton Open Space gone to development, a large swath of Palmer Park that’s now homes and lawsuits to stop roadways through the Monument Valley Park.
One of the most noteworthy is one of the most contentious as well: the swap of Strawberry Fields park near the Broadmoor in exchange for the Manitou Incline and sections of the Barr Trail.
Davies said the public really only lost out on seven acres the resort is planning to build trails on and the large amount of acreage that was received, makes up for it.
For Skorman’s part, he saw the outcry of the public pushing back against the landswap as reason to give the people a voice.
Both Davies and Skorman say voter approval of parkland exchanges is commonplace among Front Range Municipalities.
“This is why we all love living here. In fact, it crosses all sorts of partisan divides and we all appreciate our parks and land and open space so, let’s have an extra layer of protection,” Skorman said. “Let’s trust us.”