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Stay! No wait, leave!

Newspaper report confuses Red Rock Canyon residents

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Ken Burch will need to move from his quiet home of 10 years. - CREIGHTON SMITH
  • Creighton Smith
  • Ken Burch will need to move from his quiet home of 10 years.

First, city officials said the residents of Red Rock Canyon would have to move. Then, a daily newspaper article announced they'd be allowed to stay. And then last week, the residents received letters from the city saying they would, indeed, be forced to leave.

No wonder some tenants of the 789-acre property, soon to be acquired by the city and turned into a public park, are confused.

"We have no idea what's going on," one woman who lives at Red Rock Canyon said this week. "We don't know from one day to the next what's going to happen."

The tenant -- who asked not to be named due to past disputes with the current landowner, Joan Bock -- is among 27 people living on the scenic property between Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. The city of Colorado Springs announced in May that it had reached a tentative deal to purchase the land for $12.5 million and preserve it as open space. Most of the money will come from the city's voter-approved Trails, Open Space and Parks sales tax, known as TOPS.

In announcing the proposed purchase, city officials said the area's residents, most of whom live in mobile homes, would have to leave. They promised, however, that the city would treat residents fairly and help them find new homes.

But on July 7, an article in the Gazette, quoting city Parks Director Paul Butcher, proclaimed the residents might be allowed to stay "indefinitely." The report even quoted Butcher speculating about ways to accommodate mobile homes inside the future park. The city would "maybe tuck them away, back in the corner," Butcher was quoted as saying.

Three days later, Butcher sent letters to the park's residents informing them that, contrary to "incorrect newspaper articles," they should still plan on packing their belongings.

"All tenants will eventually be relocated to other housing or mobile home parks," Butcher declared.

Huge influx of people

Last Friday, the Gazette acknowledged in an article that the newspaper's July 7 report had given residents false hope -- though the paper placed the blame on Butcher, saying he had flip-flopped.

Butcher, on the other hand, says the initial article misconstrued statements he had made during an interview. He denies having told the newspaper that the residents might be allowed to stay. "That was not the thrust of our conversation," he insisted.

The city's position has always been, and remains, that the residents must leave, Butcher maintains. Most of the mobile homes are located where the city plans to construct the park's main entrance, at the mouth of the canyon, near the intersection of Highway 24 and High Street. If the homes were allowed to remain, hordes of park visitors would soon be stomping through what is now a quiet, secluded neighborhood, from early in the morning until late at night.

"The tenants [would] experience a huge influx of people, beginning at 5 a.m.," Butcher said.

It would also be too costly to bring the mobile-home park, which is currently outside city limits, up to city standards, Butcher says. At present, the homes have no defined lot lines and no sewer access. "It doesn't make sense economically," he said.

And, according to a city survey, the vast majority of the homes are not in a condition that would allow them to be moved to another location inside the park.

As long as it takes

Butcher says the city plans to hire a private company that specializes in relocating people, which will work with residents on an individual basis to help them find new homes and assist them in moving. Most residents will probably have to move sometime next year, he says.

"We will take as long as it takes to find them comparable, suitable housing," Butcher said. "I'm thinking that we'll spend the better part of 2004 just getting this issue resolved."

The parks department still hasn't calculated the total relocation costs but will give the City Council an estimate soon, Butcher says, adding that the relocation money will likely come out of state lottery funds or TOPS revenue.

Several Red Rock Canyon residents contacted by the Independent, meanwhile, said they don't object to the city's plans to relocate them -- as long as the city treats them fairly.

"It's no problem with me," said Ken Burch, who has lived in his 1960s-era mobile home for nearly 10 years. "You can't live in a park."

That's not to say Burch won't miss the place.

"It's a terrific area to live in," he said. "It's quiet, it's off the road, it's sparsely populated. It's pretty in here."

But Burch and his neighbors have long known that the property was for sale. And if they have to move, the city will probably treat them better than a potential private buyer would, several residents reasoned.

"I'm not mad at anybody," Burch said.

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