Colorado Springs Parks keeps Section 16 grant request alive, despite TOPS uncertainty

       Hold off on the autopsy. The Section 16 grant request may not be dead after all.
       The application, filed in early August, was to combine $2.4 million from the state's Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) program with about $800,000 from Colorado Spring's Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) program and $200,000 from El Paso County's conservation trust fund to buy the scenic, undeveloped foothills property. When a District Court judge ruled in late August that the ballot wording in a voter-approved tax extension for the TOPS sales tax last year did not follow state law, TOPS Manager Terry Putman had said the request would be withdrawn.
       But now he's not so sure. “We're going to go ahead with the process,” he told the Westside Pioneer. “There are a lot of factors. We've talked to GOCO about our situation, and they're willing to work with us. It's a very, very important property, and we're all hoping for the best.”
       Part of the review process occurred this week, when about 10 representatives from GOCO and 1 from the State Land Board (which owns the property) visited the site.
       Section 16 is a 640-acre parcel just south of Red Rock Canyon Open Space and near other city and county parks and national forest lands. It has several trails, including the popular Palmer/Red Rock Loop and Intemann trails.
       The city leases the property from the State Land Board. The lease ends next July. Reports are that the Land Board wants to sell the property. In the mid-'90s, the board and El Paso County Parks had discussions for a time with an out-of-state developer who was considering buying the property and putting homes there.
       The TOPS extension would have continued the .01-cent sales tax from 2010 to 2025. Unless the city wins a court appeal or creates a new ballot question for the extension, the current tax will expire after 2009.
       Putman said the city is still analyzing its open space costs and revenues. For instance, a savings in the Red Rock Canyon Open Space purchase could be realized by buying it in 5 years instead of 20; on the other hand, some of those savings may be needed in other areas.
       Another unknown factor is what the property will sell for. TOPS grant writer Aimee Cox said that State Land Board representative (Larry Routten, Front Range district manager) reported during the site visit that the most recent appraisal - $3.4 million - is two years old. However, the Land Board has not announced an asking price, she said.
       The city (through TOPS) leases the site from the state for $9,600 a year. This represents a 300 percent increase from the $3,200 a year that the county paid to lease Section 16 a year ago. That increase was key in the county pulling back from leasing the land and the city stepping in.

Westside Pioneer article