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Rules Bent over Airport Open Space

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I believe it is in the best interests of the community to hold our public airport to the highest standards of good planning practices.

How can we ask private developers to follow zoning codes and honor our City's Comprehensive Plan and Open Space Plan if a Colorado Springs--owned enterprise does not?

It is with this question in mind that I am part of the Airport Open Space Advocates (AOSA), a group that is appealing the City Planning Commission's recent approval of the Airport Business Park Master Plan. The primary focus of our appeal is the zoning code, which requires that, before a master plan is approved, the "land use types and locations reflect the findings of the environmental analysis pertaining to the physical characteristics which may preclude or limit development opportunities."

In this case, no environmental analysis was done for the airport and the plan's original description of vegetation is incorrect.

The City's Comprehensive Plan is also very clear when it urges the earliest possible identification of all environmentally sensitive land features. Despite information available from reputable sources of the existence of rare tall grass and the very high ranking of this candidate open space by the Trails Open Space and Parks (TOPS) program, careful study of the natural features was not done nor were specific areas preserved.

The airport's big bluestem grass habitat is probably one of the largest and healthiest in the state. Preserving this habitat and its expansive plains to peak gateway views deserves a community effort.

As part of its approval, the Planning Commission did include the condition that a "biological and vegetative analysis" will be submitted along with the concept plan. But the concept plan will be a limited look at approximately 30 percent of the airport's undeveloped land.

It is important to recall this non-aviation-related land was intentionally left out of the 1998 Airport Master Plan partly because of unresolved open space issues. It is at the master plan stage that good planning dictates looking at the big picture, deciding what merits preservation, and locating both areas where development is appropriate and where the best land use may be open space.

The Airport Business Plan representatives consider the inclusion of large road setbacks and a golf course as meeting the City Council--approved goal relating to the creation of open space as part of the airport land development. They also view the "25 year set aside" of acreage they doubt will be developed any time soon as a compromise response to the TOPS Working Committee Resolution. TOPS, a voice of the public, endorsed preservation of the candidate area after review, a site visit, and ranking.

The City Open Space Plan explicitly excludes golf courses as meeting the definition of open space and requires land be permanently protected to qualify. It is also doubtful that a prairie habitat will remain viable when it is limited to roadside setbacks. AOSA does not agree that the airport has met City Council's goal related to open space.

This plan should not be allowed to go forward until a proper environmental analysis has been done and, equally important, until this information is then used in a meaningful way to direct land use. AOSA also believes that more public input, another element of good planning process, should occur at this stage of development review. We urge citizens to join our "grass roots" effort by writing letters to Council or attending the City Council meeting on Nov 27.

We understand the airport's desire for revenue from development of this asset -- this is expected of a private developer -- and AOSA acknowledges the value of an economically sound airport enterprise. But, we are committed to the notion that partial development and prairie preservation can coexist when using visionary planning practices.

Jane Titus lives in Colorado Springs and is a member of the Airport Open Space Advocates (AOSA). The Nov. 27 City Council meeting begins at 9 a.m. in Council Chambers at the newly renovatedCity Hall building at the corner of Kiowa Street and Nevada Avenue.

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