Parks protection ballot measure has lots of problems says city attorney

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Kent Obee and dozens of other citizens opposed the Strawberry Fields land swap and now propose a ballot measure to stave off a similar action. - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • Kent Obee and dozens of other citizens opposed the Strawberry Fields land swap and now propose a ballot measure to stave off a similar action.

City Attorney Wynetta Massey has a lot of reasons why City Council shouldn't refer a measure to the April 2 ballot that would propose requiring a vote of the people before the city disposes of park land and open space.

The measure, Protect Our Parks, or POPs, is slated to be discussed by Council at its Jan. 22 work session.

But Massey clearly outlines why the measure is a bad idea from the mayor's and Council's perspective of wanting to maintain control over the ability to trade, sell or otherwise get rid of parks property. "The transfer of parkland is an administrative function of the Mayor, Parks Department, and City Council," she writes.

The POPs measure grew from Mayor John Suthers' and Council's controversial decision to trade the 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor in 2016. Most of the property, adjacent to North Cheyenne Cañon, has been placed in a conservation easement, which is designed to allow public access to all of the land except an 8-acre riding stable and picnic pavilion area reserved for Broadmoor guests.



Opponents of the swap, who formed the nonprofit Save Cheyenne, took the measure all the way to the Colorado Court of Appeals and lost. The state Supreme Court refused their plea to hear the case. They also raised questions about how the property was appraised.

(Notably, now-City Council President Richard Skorman was an original leader of Save Cheyenne, before being elected to Council in 2017.)

Now, POPs advocates want to be sure another Strawberry Fields swap or give-away doesn't recur, and want voters to approve a Charter change to prevent it.

But Massey's five-page legal opinion obtained by the Indy outlines myriad reasons why Council should not refer such a measure. She takes issue with the word "transferred," saying its an "undefined term." She notes the ballot language would ask for protection of "city parks" but isn't clear what that includes. (Read her entire opinion on the next page.)



It is perhaps notable that while some Councilors (Skorman included) favor the legal change, the mayor, who opposes it, has the power to hire and fire Massey. Past City Councilors have unsuccessfully sought to change city law to allow them to hire a separate attorney in cases where the mayor and Council have opposing viewpoints.

Kent Obee, who led the Strawberry Fields swap opponents, says he interprets Massey's opinion as a roadblock.
"They're just trying to throw every legal roadblock they can at what is basically a pretty simple issue," he says. "It is just nitpicking to try to block us or slow us down."

He notes that over 30 cities in Colorado, including Denver, Boulder and Aurora, have such protection for city parks.

Obee says if the measure isn't referred, proponents likely will try to petition the measure onto the November ballot, which also is likely to contain a five-year extension of Suthers' 2C road improvement tax.

For more detail, see the next page.



Here's the research upon which POPs is based:
See related PDF POPs_Research_City_Council_Packet.pdf Massey's opinion:
See related PDF POPsIssueAnalysis.pdf The ballot language:
Section 1: City owned parks and open space may not be sold, traded, exchanged, transferred, disposed, abandoned, conveyed, or otherwise alienated unless said transaction is approved by the voters in a City regular or special election.
Section 2: City parks shall be defined as: Any city owned land intended for use as public parkland or open space.
Examples of parks and open space include, but are not limited to: (a) city owned land that is in operation as a park or that is in a condition or state of readiness and availability for use as a park or open space; (b) land that is zoned or platted for the intended use as a park; (c) parks or open spaces identified in the Colorado Springs Parks System Master Plan dated September 23, 2014, Appendix A, and identified as parks classified as: regional, community, neighborhood, open space including special resource areas, sports, and special purpose parks; (d) future approved additions to the inventory of parks and open space as identified in future Colorado Springs Parks System Master Plans or similar documents; or (e) any part or portion of an existing park or open space.
Section 3: Exclusions: no vote is required for certain “specific transfers”, or “proposed parks”:
(a) Easements for utilities, right of ways or emergency services;
(b) Any court ordered transfers of title, possession or similar matters;
(c) Creation of a conservation easement or other similar actions intended for park protection;
(d) Survey, boundary or encroachment adjustments;
(e) Short term leasing or permitting in a manner consistent with parks use;
(f) Any land deemed unsuitable for park use due to safety or environmental issues;
(g) Proposed parks, in the planning and development process, under the Park Land Dedication Ordinance (PLDO) or similar ordinances;
(h) Transfers of trails, rather than parks or open spaces, for the purpose of development of trails, access to parks, improvement of a park or realignment of a trail;
Section 4: Nothing in this amendment shall lessen any existing park or open space protections.
Examples of existing protections that will not be lessened include, but are not limited to: (a) deed restrictions; (b) conservation easements; (c) protections under the Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) Ordinance; or (d) parks with historical designations.
Section 5: The purpose and intent of this amendment is to protect parks by recognizing the value that parks add to the community, users and property holders. Sale or transfer of parkland affects individuals that relied on representations of continuing park usage.

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