Colorado Springs City Council revives effort for voter approval to sell or transfer park land

Visitors walk through Garden of the Gods on a sunny day in west Colorado Springs. Photo Credit: Christian Murdock; The Gazette.

Colorado Springs City Council resurrected an effort requiring voter approval to sell or transfer parkland Monday — a measure that could be headed for the November ballot after it died last year.

The Protect our Parks measure would require a super council majority of at least six members to ask for voter approval of the sale or transfer of parkland into private ownership, according to city documents. The city would not have to seek voter approval in some circumstances such as eminent domain, title disputes and deals involving minor transfers of parkland. A minor parcel of land is defined as 2 acres or less than 5% of the total acreage of the park, city documents show.

Parks advocate Kent Obee brought the proposal before council members Monday for an informal discussion and noted the current economic downturn driven by the coronavirus demonstrates the need to protect parks from sale in emergencies.

“I think our parkland is a very special legacy that cannot be replaced,” he said.

Colorado Springs City Council rejects ballot measures on selling or trading parkland The proposal gained support from a majority of council members and could be placed on the November ballot, but only if another city question is headed for the ballot because of the costs involved, council members said.

Council President Richard Skorman was among those who supported the proposal because future elected officials might consider selling parkland to cover a budget shortfall.

“It wouldn’t be hard to envision down the road there would be some council or some mayor that would say, ‘Boy, we just need the money,'” Skorman said.

Councilmen Dave Geislinger, Andy Pico and Wayne Williams expressed some reservations about the proposal and suggested exploring more exceptions to requiring a vote to convey parkland. Geislinger said he would like to see an exception that would allow city council and the mayor’s office to act quickly in an emergency that couldn’t be anticipated and didn’t involve a budgetary shortfall.

“The city of Aspen had to make an emergency decision with regard to part of their parks system because of a landslide. … Those are things that cannot go back to voters,” Geislinger said.

Williams said he would like to see room in the proposal for the council to make land swaps that would improve the parks system and might require quick action.

“I would not want to hand-tie the city and its citizens from obtaining a better parks situation,” he said.

City staff was directed to research possible changes to the ballot language based on the issues from Geislinger, Pico and Williams.

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