Saturday, February 27, 2016

Land Swapping in the Springs

A proposed land swap is in the works between the City of Colorado Springs and the Broadmoor Hotel. The following is my personal assessment of the deal based on my own experiences with the parties involved.

Full disclosure: I have been interacting with the City Parks department and Trails and Open Spaces Working Group to try and get a large parcel of land in my own neighborhood designated as an Open Space. I have found department personnel and committee members to be very receptive to citizen initiatives; and I have nothing but good things to say about them.

Unfortunately, I have no nice things to say about the Broadmoor, which is owned by the Anschutz Corporation, a large conglomerate headquartered in Denver. Since I have lived here, the Broadmoor has demonstrated nothing but arrogance, bullying, and whining when it doesn't get its way.

The company put its name on the World Arena, a venue for many entertainment acts and sports events. "World Arena" was a fine name all by itself, if you ask me, and everyone knew the Broadmoor before that publicity anyway.

The Broadmoor later exerted leverage to essentially turn the public Bear Creek Regional Park into its own private trail-riding club. The kicker here is that the Broadmoor already owns riding stables up on Cheyenne Mountain. Neighborhoods around Bear Creek fought back, and the idea has been tabled.

When the Broadmoor does not get what it wants, it often throws editorial temper-tantrums in the Colorado Springs Gazette, which....surprise, surprise, is also owned by the Anshutz Corporation. Gee, I wonder how critical that newspaper is going to be concerning the proposed land swap.

City and county officials paint a glowing picture of this land exchange proposal, consistently repeating how the City is getting more acreage than the Broadmoor wants in exchange, and at how the property being acquired is worth more than what is being sacrificed. We are assured that this will make all the trail connections seamless now, with any future extensions much easier to carry out with the new rights-of-way.

Were it not for the Friends of North Cheyenne CaƱon, and the recently-created Save Cheyenne, we would not know what we stand to lose in this transaction. Locals know the 189-acre parcel slated to be turned over to the Broadmoor as "Strawberry Fields." I'd never heard of it, but many people who are long-time residents haven't, either. It may be the most scenic piece of real estate in the Front Range foothills, and perhaps the closest thing to true wilderness this close to the city.

Aside from my contempt for the Broadmoor, I have two additional concerns. The City puts an overwhelming emphasis on "active" recreation, which I prefer to call "speed recreation" since it mostly means trail runners and mountain bikers. One "perk" of the land swap being touted by the City is that the trade will still preserve access to Hully Gully, an ice-climbing route. The City would also get to finally claim the "Incline," a nearly mile-long, almost vertical (2,000 ft. elevation gain) staircase of railroad ties that is immensely popular with the athletic crowd.

What about those of us who like to hike leisurely, without being run over by runners or mountain bikers? In fairness, the majority of mountain bikers I have encountered are conscientious, and observant, and will stop if they see me taking pictures of a bird or something. Some are even genuinely interested in what caught my eye. Still, there are those blind curves where cyclist and pedestrian risk colliding. And then there is the erosion issue.

Lastly, I am unaware of any natural heritage inventory to inform us as to what may be compromised in terms of natural resources should this deal go through. The Broadmoor has thusfar not declared what developments will happen on the Strawberry Fields property, or where they would happen. There is the promise of a picnic shelter where the Parks Department can conduct fundraising events free of rental charges. The Broadmoor may or may not want stables and a riding arena. They will certainly build equestrian trails for their use only.

My bottom line is that I would really, really hate to see Strawberry Fields become yet another playground for the wealthy, forever closed to those who cannot afford to visit. Further, enacting this plan would continue the practice of the Mayor and City Council putting the interests of corporations and wealthy individuals ahead of the public good. You have a chance to make your own voice heard via an online response form at Speak Up! COS, but there is not a lot of latitude for "freestyle" comments, and you have to create an account to participate. Still, I recommend it.

Sources:Hazlehurst, John. 2016. "Broadmoor land swap proposal divides southwest neighborhood," The Colorado Springs Business Journal

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