- Courtesy Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District
The Banning Lewis Ranch annexation agreement carved out a significant chunk of property that, at the time it was approved in 1988, was likened to Garden of the Gods. The new agreement under consideration by City Council makes no such pledge.
Related City faced with changing the rules on Banning Lewis Ranch to spur development: Growing plains
That's just one complaint of parks, trails and open space advocates about a proposal to change the rules for developing the 20,000-acre ranch on the city's east side to encourage owners to build on the property.
• While the city acquired 693-acre Jimmy Camp Creek Park in the ranch's north segment by deed in 1993 as required by the annexation agreement, there are no funds specified to develop the land into a park. "This would need to be funded with general fund and/or TOPS [Trails, Open Space and Parks sales tax] dollars," says city spokesperson Kim Melchor in an email. The voter-approved TOPS tax raises about $8.5 million a year. Due to expected growth in the ranch if the new agreement is adopted, the TOPS tax would raise an additional $12.7 million over the next 30 years, according to a study by TischlerBise financial analysis firm, which assumed the tax would be extended by voter approval beyond its 2025 expiration.
• More acreage for the open space park, Corral Bluffs, an outcropping of rocks and plains that contains archaeological and paleontological assets, also is wanted by open space supporters, but the proposed agreement is silent on that issue.
• The agreement requires that developers dedicate land for parks or pay fees in lieu of land but doesn't require parks to be built. That would fall to the city. The land dedication requirement is .0165 acres per dwelling unit for residential land densities of more than eight dwellings per acre, and 0.02325 acres per dwelling unit for densities of eight dwellings or fewer per acre. So a development of 15 acres, say, would set aside 1.4 to 3 acres for a park, depending on density.
TischlerBise forecasts the city would spend $58.5 million on parks projects over the coming 30 years due to growth at the ranch. Of that, $52 million would be spent building community parks, $5.25 million building neighborhood parks and $1.3 million building trails. But that forecast was based on an assumption that "two-thirds of neighborhood parks would be built and maintained by metro districts or HOAs," the study says. Districts and HOAs impose fees or taxes to fund such amenities.
Instead of donating land, developers could pay fees of about $1,781 per housing unit in a subdivision where density is eight units per acre or less, and $1,264 if the density is greater than eight units per acre. For example, a developer of 15 acres at 12 homes per acre would pay $75,840, while a developer of 15 acres with four homes per acre would pay $106,860.
Developers who choose to dedicate open space would be granted 50 percent credit toward the park land requirement, but the city can reject a proposed open-space parcel if it's not considered "of high value," says Parks Director Karen Palus.
Because it's unlikely a developer would donate large swaths of land, advocates say the clock is ticking on snatching up open space in the ranch. "It's the last chance to have a big space and have the same experience [on the city's east side] that we have on the west side," says Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition. "That has to be the overarching vision. We have to protect as much as we can."
Lee Milner, who was given the mayor's Spirit of the Springs award in July for his volunteer work on trails, open space and parks for 28 years, told Council at a Jan. 16 meeting the time is now to strike a deal with Nor'wood Development Group, which owns 18,500 acres of the ranch.
"We're at a point where owners of the property want something that we have, which is a change in the annexation agreement," Milner said. "What are we doing? We're giving up that leverage without extracting much back. We say we'll negotiate that later. Then we'll negotiate from a position of weakness. To the degree we're giving up that leverage, I believe you're not representing the people of Colorado Springs properly."
Milner also says the city is wrong not to require developers to build parks, which mayoral Chief of Staff Jeff Greene has said the city can no longer afford to do. "Since we've done something wrong in the past, are we going to continue to do it wrong?" Milner asked.
Tim Seibert, spokesperson for Nor'wood, told Council on Jan. 16 that Nor'wood will "promote responsible stewardship of the property's environmental resources" and will "support the protection of the property's world renowned paleontological and archaeological sites with a significant conservation effort that is locally and nationally significant, [and] support greater and more meaningful outdoor educational and recreational opportunities for all of our citizens."
In a statement issued on Nov. 12, 2014, announcing its $28 million purchase of the ranch, Nor'wood said, "Responsible development, recreation and conservation will be foundational principles of the vision for Banning Lewis Ranch, which will take decades to fully realize."
But both that statement and comments by Seibert on Jan. 16 stopped short of saying any of the Nor'wood property would be given to the city.