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Read my deeds: Critics say art plan trespasses on Palmer's parks

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To David Turner, director of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, there are many reasons to get excited about the center's proposed expansion into Monument Valley Park.

There's the multistory, climate-controlled gallery that will allow the museum to host more cutting-edge art; more space for the museum's growing education programs and, among other things, a sculpture garden that would lead people from the park right into the museum.

Now, people in the park have to hike up a windy, narrow road to reach the center's front door. "So I think this could actually be very good for the park, not just for us," said Turner, who has proposed swapping a large estate owned by the Fine Arts Center.

But Turner's enthusiasm has not rubbed off on everyone. Maureen Nystuen, parks coordinator for the League of Women Voters for the Pikes Peak Region, has no problem with the specific designs proposed by the center.

But she has big problems with the idea of building on land deeded exclusively as park land by city founder William Jackson Palmer in 1907.

"We're not looking at the merits of [Fine Arts Center's] case," said Nystuen. "We understand that they have needs to expand, but we are standing firmly from the perspective of protecting Monument Valley Park."


Dangerous precedent

To Nystuen and other critics, the FAC plan would set a dangerous precedent, violating the conditions under which Palmer deeded the 159 acres of Monument Valley Park to the public.

Under the terms of that agreement, "no buildings or structures shall be erected upon said property," except for "one or two buildings" that might contain a restaurant, buffets or the "moderate provision for the sale of curios."

The deed also forbids the city from building any roads through the park, except those that carry hikers and bikers. "It is my desire and intention that this property be kept as a public park for the people," Palmer wrote in the deed.

"The land of Monument Valley Park is not supposed to be nibbled away at," said Richard Bradley, a North End resident who joined an early '70s lawsuit that forced the city to abide by Palmer's deeds.

At that time, the city had proposed extending Fontanero Street west across the park to I-25, and city leaders began talking about selling off a chunk of Monument Valley Park for development.

In response, the League of Women Voters -- along with Springs Area Beautiful Association and several others like Bradley -- sued the city in hopes of getting a "declarative judgement" against any intrusion into Palmer's park land.

After a few years of legal wrangling, city officials finally signed a 1974 stipulation that prohibited further incursion into the park. "The defendant, the City of Colorado Springs, will not be a party to nor engage in any activities which will result in sale, disposition of, loss of or diminished use of said park lands solely as parks," the agreement reads.

In 1977, the issue was revisited when the city wanted to expand Templeton Gap Road along Palmer Park. The road was expanded into some unused parkland, but opponents got more promises against further park incursion.


The land swap

The FAC's proposal, however, raises new questions because it involves a land swap. In exchange for about 16,800 square feet of park land, the Fine Arts Center is considering handing over the Carpenter House, a large historic home surrounded by a stone wall just north of the FAC and directly next to park land.

While Turner imagines the estate could be a boon to the park, opponents fear the home would not be covered by Palmer's tough deed restrictions, meaning that some day, it too could be developed or sold.

But the FAC's expansion isn't the only issue running into trouble with Palmer's deed restrictions. A proposed bridge that's part of interchange reconstruction by the State Department of Transportation at Bijou Street also runs afoul of Palmer's deed because it would cross over park land.

The proposed bridge would not touch park land, says CDOT's Dave Pohling. But it would cut over the park with three lanes of eastbound traffic.

Several city leaders, including Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, have suggested that Palmer would not have a problem with changes to park land. The city has changed since 1907, they note, and a city planner like Palmer would recognize the need to adapt.

But opponents say such statements are the very reason why Palmer wrote the deed the way he did. "General Palmer was wary of what politicians might do with land he donated," Nystuem noted. "He was smart and farsighted in that regard."

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