If you want to see what happens when a treasured piece of open space succumbs to the bulldozers, just drive north on Mesa Road toward the Garden of the Gods Club. Just south of that exclusive enclave is/was a substantial pasture, itself flat and unremarkable, but affording passersby an extraordinary view of the Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak.
It's a view that has delighted pedestrians, drivers and cyclists since the 19th century, when Mesa Road was a dirt pathway. Recently scraped bare by giant earthmoving machines, the pasture will soon become another upscale development, and that view of the Garden, for so many years part of our visual commons, will be reserved for the richies.
And what's wrong with that? Nothing; after all, the landowner has every right to realize a return from his/her property, and it's a valuable chunk of land. With foresight, the City could have bought it for a song a couple of generations ago, but the time for that has long past.
Not so for Red Rock Canyon, 720 acres of spectacular canyons, rock formations, forested hillsides and fossil-rich ridges that is the geologic southern extension of the Garden of the Gods. It's not too late to acquire much of this property as open space, provided that our elected representatives have the smarts, the sophistication and the moxie to deal with Santa Fe developer Albert Yates.
Yates doesn't actually own the ground, but his company Zydeco is, in real-estate legalese, the equitable owner of the property, by virtue of an option to buy. For the last several months, there's been a six-sided tug-of-war going on, between the property's present owner (the irascible John Bock), Zydeco, Manitou Springs, Colorado Springs, the Colorado Springs Utilities Department and an ad hoc citizen's group dedicated to preserving the land.
It's been a great civic donnybrook so far, with multiple plots and subplots, and angry accusations of bad faith on all sides. Any number of politicians has gotten into the act, trying to craft acceptable solutions to multiple impasses.
A few months ago, Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace and Councilman Richard Skorman met, as emissaries of Council, privately with Yates -- with no apparent effect. Still later, the City Council held a couple of closed executive sessions in which Red Rock Canyon was discussed. And later still, another Council member hinted that there were only a couple of minor stumbling blocks remaining before a deal could be cut.
But just in the last few days, the City Council, acting as the Utility Board, refused Zydeco's request for water service, which would have potentially given the developer the ability to move forward prior to annexation. After the vote, Zydeco promptly sued Utilities, hoping that the courts would award the developer what elected officials would not.
Meanwhile, Zydeco's Yates, after first stating that he'd seek annexation by Manitou, then by Colorado Springs, now claims the property will be developed in the County, annexation be damned.
To that end, they're applying for a special-use permit, which would clear the way for the creation of a golf course. Of course, to build a golf course, you need water. And where's the water gonna come from? Why, from the City of Colorado Springs -- that is, if Zydeco prevails in its lawsuit ...
So how is this mess going to be resolved? There's a deal floating around out there that might answer the concerns of open space advocates and give Zydeco an acceptable out. Under this scenario, the only development on the property would be commercial along Highway 24, a luxury hotel farther to the south, and the golf course. The remainder of the property would be open space, both publicly and privately held. All of the property would be annexed into Colorado Springs.
Sounds fine, except that Zydeco would thereby forfeit an enormous source of revenue from the sale of luxury home sites, la Stratton Preserve or Peregrine. From their standpoint, it might make more sense to remain intransigent, and wait a couple of years until a new group of elected officials, hopefully pro-development conservatives, take office in Colorado Springs.
But there's a wild card in the deck. Zydeco's option to buy the property will expire next month, according to open-space advocate Joe Fabeck. This might be the time for the City's tax-funded open-space program to make a pre-emptive bid for all or part of the property.
So what's gonna happen? Will Bock double-cross Zydeco? Will Makepeace cut a secret deal? Will the County roll over? Will Manitou Mayor Marcy Morrison ride to the rescue?
Stay tuned ...