Colorado Springs Planning Fee recommends decreasing parkland dedication necessities for builders in Colorado Springs Information

Developers would have to make less land available for parks if they build new homes, according to a recommendation approved by the Colorado Springs Planning Commission Thursday.

The proposal to reduce parkland inauguration requirements from 7½ acres per 1,000 residents to 5½ acres per 1,000 residents comes at a time when parks and open spaces have been inundated with visitors due to the pandemic. Parks and open space advocates are also expected to resist if it goes before Colorado Springs City Council in January as part of a package of parkland dedication changes. The proposed changes would also increase the fees developers pay when parkland isn’t available for dedications and fees have to be spent in the same neighborhood as the apartments that triggered their payment.

“The fact that we would even consider cutting the amount (of parkland) is just incredibly baffling,” said Judith Rice-Jones, former member of the city’s parks and recreation council and opponent of the proposal. The decision would go against General William Palmer’s vision for the community as the city approaches its 150th birthday and celebrates his legacy, she said.

The commission approved changes to parkland requirements for developers, including lower land requirements, by a 7-1 vote.

“It’s in line with the park’s master plan,” said commission chairman Scott Hente.

The city said its goal was to provide 3 acres of community parkland per 1,000 residents and 2½ acres of neighborhood parkland per 1,000 residents in the 2000 and 2014 parks master plans, said Chris Lieber of NES, a city-hired advisor, who is working on changes to the city Parkland Dedication. The master plan standards do not include open spaces in the city like Palmer Park, he said. Taking into account the open spaces, the city offers 37.2 hectares per 1,000 residents, Leiber said.

Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition, previously said it made sense for the city to accept less parkland, although as a lawyer she hates the idea because the city lacks the funds to develop about 15 parks that already exist was dedicated.

Currently, the city does not meet the 5½ acre standard per 1,000 residents in some neighborhoods, even when including parks developed and owned by homeowners and specialty districts, Leiber said.

For example, central Colorado Springs north of downtown has 3.6 acres of parkland per 1,000 people and southwestern Colorado Springs has 2.9 acres of parkland per 1,000 people.

Planning Commissioner Martin Rickett rejected the measure in part because the city is not keeping pace with the 5½ acre standard in all areas and further reductions in parkland real estate will continue to decrease over time.

Our coalition park organizer Kent Obee said he would rather see the city adopt land and set it aside for future development than change the standard.

“I think one of the things the pandemic did showed how much the city’s citizens value their parks and open spaces,” he said.

He also noted that the community is clearly lagging behind other Front Range communities in terms of general land conservation.

Colorado Springs has purchased 7,200 acres of open space since 1996, adding to the fact that the city has more than 9,000 acres of parkland. El Paso County has 8,000 acres of open space.

For comparison, Douglas County has reserved more than 63,000 acres of open space since 1994 when a special sales tax was passed, The Gazette previously reported. Jefferson County has preserved over 56,000 acres of open space since 1972, according to its website.

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