Just the facts. Be informed.
Introduction: Protect our Parks (POPS) is a campaign to collect signatures (15,200 registered City voters) to place on the April 4, 2017 City Election ballot an initiative to change the City's Charter to disallow the City to sell, trade or otherwise convey dedicated parkland without a vote of the people. If voters pass this Charter Change, then the electorate would have to approve any such conveyance of parkland in a general city election. In order to fully inform voters, 90 days prior to that election, the following will need to be provided to the electors:
All increase or decrease of taxes and all maintenance costs associated with the transaction must be analyzed;
A current public master plan (within the last 10 years) of the proposed property will need to be in place;
An independent appraisal of the land to be valued for its intended use be done;
And a full site plan with all its associated studies of the proposed use of the parkland must be completed through the City's Planning Department and approved by the Planning Commission and City Council.
Why? We believe our parks and open space land are the property and heritage of all the citizens of Colorado Springs. Decisions about the sale, trade, or disposal of these properties should only be made by them – not by city officials. This was a principle City founder General William Palmer understood well when he placed restrictive deeds on all properties he donated to the city and when he insisted the city have an independent parks board. Ironically, Palmer’s parks board was done away with by a charter change in 1947. Such protections exist in the charters and ordinances of many home rule cities including our strongly “home rule” neighbor to the north – Denver
The intent of the citizen-driven initiative is to apply protection to all property included within the system-wide park inventory (as detailed in the 2014 Colorado Springs Parks System Master Plan) and to each and every park master plan in the future. This initiative will ensure that all parkland and open spaces in the City's inventory enjoy at least the same protection as land acquired under the Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) Ordinance or land acquired through the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) program.
Overwhelming Public Support: In a recent scientific poll of likely Colorado Springs voters, with a margin of error of +/- 5 percent, 77.5 percent supported requiring voter approval to sell, trade, or otherwise convey city parkland with only 16.5 percent opposing.
Why now? Because there have too many times during our City's history where local elected officials have been willing to sell or trade publicly owned parkland or open space without the safeguard of having to ask permission from the voters and taxpayers who placed those properties in a public trust in the first place. Strawberry Fields is but the most recent example.
Strawberry Hill / Strawberry Fields: On May 24, 2016, Council voted to trade the 189.5 acres of Strawberry Fields to the Broadmoor Hotel to be used as a 100 seat barbeque/event center and horseback riding operation without a current master plan, without a site plan, with no assessment of taxes or maintenance costs associated with the conveyance and no independent appraisal for it's intended use.
Bear Creek Regional Park: During the recession in 2009, some El Paso County Commissioners wanted to sell portions of Bear Creek Regional Park to developers to put more money in the County's coffers. Last November, an initiative was passed by County voters to disallow passage without approval from County voters.
Monument Valley Park: In the 1970s there was a major effort initiated by developers to acquire the northern part of Monument Valley Park for residential development, and our politicians were willing to go along. The effort was only blocked by strong citizen protest and, finally, a court decision.
White House Ranch/Rock Ledge Ranch: At about the same time the City was prepared to sell off White House Ranch adjoining the Garden of the Gods for development. There was again citizen outcry and the property is now Rock Ledge Ranch – and on the National Register of Historic Places.
The El Paso County Court House: Earlier, the County was prepared to sell off the classic Stratton-donated Court House. The public protested and, today, it is the Pioneers Museum and on the National Historic Register.
There are many other examples of land preservation decisions that were either overturned or revised by public officials only after prolonged public pressure.
Red Rock Canyon: In 1999, City Parks staff had ranked Red Rock Canyon Open Space as the number 8 priority on the list of Open Space candidate areas because of environmental problems, and because there were low-income housing and trailer units on the property. In 2003, a developer from Santa Fe who had an option to buy the property, had invested over a million dollars into a development plan. The plan proposed 3000 residential units, a 27-hole golf course, a 400-room resort and a million square feet of commercial development. It was only when the City of Colorado Springs Council would not sell the developer water and the citizens of Manitou Springs circulated a petition to disallow annexation without voter approval that the developer let his option expire. The City was able to buy it as open space.
White Acres: In 2008, 45 acres adjacent to Red Rock Canyon Open Space was master planned for development of several dozen houses and after citizens uproar, was protected by the TOPS program so that houses weren't built adjacent to the popular Red Rock Canyon Park.
Prospect Lake: In 2005, City staff recommended that we not put water into Prospect Lake because of the cost (we have to pay for that water from Colorado Springs Utilities). Council placed on the ballot a TABOR refund question that paid for Prospect's Lake's water, and it was passed overwhelmingly by the voters.
Corral Bluffs: In 2010, El Paso County wanted to turn several hundred acres of Corral Bluffs open into a motorcycle park. After much public outcry, it is now an official City of Colorado Springs Open Space Park and has a Colorado Natural Area designation.
Blodgett Peak Open Space: In 2001, Blodgett Peak Open Space was master planned to have 40 homes developed on the property. Once again, because of neighborhood outcry, that land was saved by the TOPS program.
Stratton Open Space: In 1998, one year after the TOPS Initiative passed, 312 acres of the Stratton Land were not only master planned for 300 homes, but Council and Park staff didn't want to make it the first TOPS purchase because Cheyenne Canon “already had plenty of open space”, and the developer was willing to build trails between the houses for free. Cheyenne Commons was formed and offered to raise $1.5 million in 6 months to keep it all as open space. Luckily, the City and the developer agreed, and Cheyenne Commons raised $1.6 million in 3 months from over 800 contributors.
Other examples of preservation efforts that had to be made by citizens, some successful, some not:
Cheyenne Mountain State Park: master planned for 5,000 houses.
Section 16: the County was willing to trade for a developer to place 400 homes.
The Houck Estate
University Park Open Space
Stratton Open Space: half of the original land has been developed.
Unfortunately, during tough economic times, we can't trust local elected officials, many of whom raise significant campaign money from corporate interests. We need to have a safety net in place to allow voters to make the decision to sell or trade their park land or open space.
POPS will not only give voters an opportunity to weigh in, but will also require pertinent information that the voters will need to make the best decision for our City in the future.