POPS Proponents Weigh Options Following Legal Setback; Mayor Cautions Against Ballot Initiative

Dec 14, 2016

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers addressed city council Tuesday about a proposed initiative that would require voter approval for any future sale or trade of city-owned parkland. The initiative is called Protect Our Parks, or POPS, and it has been supported by many of the same people working to halt the so-called Broadmoor land exchange, which was approved by city council in May.

In his remarks, the Mayor warned that requiring voter approval for parkland sales and exchanges would make it more difficult for the city to make deals that benefit the parks system. 

"Yes we all love our tremendous parks system," said Suthers, "but the fact of the matter is that the city has used land exchanges to enhance that parks system on many, many occasions, and we don't want to take that ability away."

Mayor John Suthers addressing Colorado Springs city council, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016.
Credit Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC

Suthers cited a 2013 Colorado Supreme Court ruling which found that real estate transactions are "inherently administrative," and asserted that city council is "wholly competent to make these types of administrative decisions."

The issue of whether residents should be able to vote on land deals involving public parkland surfaced during the recent debate over the city's plan to trade, among other plots, a 189-acre parcel of North Cheyenne Canyon Park called Strawberry Fields to the Broadmoor. In exchange, the city would receive nearly 400 hundred acres of property owned by the Broadmoor hotel.  

In its original form, the proposed POPS initiative would have retroactively called for a citywide vote on that exchange. Last week, a judge struck down the Strawberry Fields clause in the initiative, saying that it combined two issues in one measure and could be confusing to voters.

Despite the loss, proponents of POPS say they still hope to see the city pass a measure requiring a vote on future exchanges involving city parkland.

"We're not trying to tie the city's hands," said Kent Obee, who has been active in the POPS campaign. "What we do want to do is not have the huge precedent that's been created by Strawberry Fields be the basis of another huge swap like that sometime in the future--whether in Ute Valley Park, or Garden of the Gods, or any of the properties not protected by the city right now."

"We may have to wait for a new council, because it may not be something that they want to admit that needs to be done."

POPS proponents had planned to collect signatures to get the initiative on the April ballot. However, last week's court ruling prompted a change in course.

POPS supporter Richard Skorman said Tuesday that proponents are considering either asking city council to directly refer the measure to the April ballot or working with the city to craft an ordinance that wouldn't require voter approval.

Skorman said proponents hope to decide on a new strategy by January, but explained that the timeline will likely depend on the level of support for the proposal among council members.

"We may have to wait for a new council, because it may not be something that they want to admit that needs to be done," said Skorman.

In the meantime, a lawsuit challenging the legality of the Broadmoor land exchange is currently working its way through the courts.

Disclaimer: Richard Skorman owns Poor Richards, which is an underwriter of 91.5 KRCC.