Colorado Springs residents opposed to a controversial land exchange between the city and the Broadmoor Hotel filed paperwork Tuesday morning aimed at amending the city's charter. The amendment would require voter approval for any future sale, trade, or transfer of city-owned parkland.
Members of Save Cheyenne—a non-profit group opposed to the so-called Broadmoor land swap—are spearheading the initiative, which has been dubbed Protect Our Parks, or POPS. They've filed a statement of intent to circulate a petition with the City Clerk's office, thereby beginning the process to put the issue on the ballot for next April's citywide election.
The move comes almost five months after city council approved a deal to trade a 189-acre parcel of North Cheyenne Canyon Park called Strawberry Fields to the Broadmoor, in exchange for nearly 400 hundred acres of property owned by the hotel. At the time, the city argued that it had the authority to make such a trade without voter approval, but opponents of the deal contended that the people of Colorado Springs should have the final say.
"This is something that was inspired by Strawberry Fields, but we also feel like it's something that's important for all the parks in Colorado Springs, not just Strawberry Fields," said Richard Skorman, former Colorado Springs vice mayor and member of Save Cheyenne, at a press conference Tuesday morning in the lobby of the city administration building. "We want to make sure the public has a chance to weigh in."
Once the request to circulate the petition is approved by the city, Skorman said he expects the group will have less than three months to acquire the 15,200 signatures needed to add the proposed initiative to the ballot. Citing a recent poll, he said he believes the measure has the necessary backing to succeed.
"We have a recent scientific poll that showed 77.5% of people support this. We're confident that people will sign this petition and vote yes for it," he explained.
The proposed amendment addresses a number of concerns raised by opponents of the Broadmoor Land Swap during the debate over the deal last spring. Beyond requiring voter approval, it also stipulates that any sale or trade of city-owned parkland or open space go through a public process including an independent appraisal, site studies and master plan, and an analysis of costs associated with the transaction. Further, it would require that all this is completed at least 90 days prior to a citywide vote on any proposed deal.
According to Save Cheyenne board member Kent Obee, the desired charter change would not be unprecedented in Colorado.
"Just to the north of us, Denver has a very strong provision, in its charter, just exactly like the one we want to put in the Colorado Springs charter, which says parkland cannot be sold or otherwise disposed of without a vote of the people," said Obee. "We think this is a protection that Colorado Springs should enjoy as well."
The proposed changes would affect any sale or trade finalized after May 1st, 2016, meaning that the Strawberry Fields deal—which was approved May, 24th—would be subject to the new voter approval conditions.
"Nobody wants to suppress voter will, and we think this is a great example [where] the voters should speak," said Richard Skorman.
Save Cheyenne has also filed a lawsuit against the city seeking to stop the Broadmoor land exchange. The city subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the case. William Lewis, legal counsel for Save Cheyenne, said he's confident that the lawsuit will withstand the city's objections.
A spokesperson for the City of Colorado Springs declined to comment for this story.