Colorado Springs City Council splits on allowing homebuilders to dedicate less parkland to the city

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A few Colorado Springs City Council members during a work session Monday strongly opposed and questioned lowering how much parkland developers must dedicate to the city when they build new homes.

“Once this is lost, it can never be recovered,” Councilman Bill Murray said of land dedication requirements.  

The proposed parkland dedication rules would lower how much land developers must dedicate to the city to 5½ acres per 1,000 residents, down from 7½ acres per 1,000 people. The proposal is part of a slate of changes to an ordinance that governs what land or fees homebuilders must assign to the city when they build new neighborhoods and apartments. 

The change is based on the 2000 and 2014 parks master plans that stated the city’s goal is to provide 3 acres of community parkland per 1,000 residents and 2½ acres of neighborhood parkland per 1,000 people, said Chris Lieber of NES, a consultant hired by the city to work on the changes. The master plan standards do not include city open space, such as Garden of the Gods, he said. When open space is taken into account, the city provides about 37 acres per 1,000 residents, Lieber said. 

Council President Richard Skorman questioned whether the city should be reducing the parkland requirement when it may ask voters for a sales tax increase dedicated to parks and open space in November. The increase could potentially help the city catch up on its $200 million in deferred parks maintenance. 

“I don’t like the optics of lowering the amount per acre for the developers to donate and then asking for a tax increase eight months later,” Skorman said. 

He also questioned whether basing a change on the 2014 parks master plan would make sense because the document was approved after the parks budget was severely cut during the recession.   

“We are basing everything on a standard that we may want to change,” Skorman said. 

Councilman Wayne Williams supported lowering the requirement for developers, saying that when neighborhood and community parks acreage per 1,000 people is broken out regionally across town only downtown meets or exceeds the 7½ acre standard. 

“I see the vast majority of the city is significantly less than the 5.5 (acres) that’s being proposed, I don’t see the justification that we are going to require a higher level for a new development,” he said. 

While the issue of parkland dedication seemed to split the council, several members didn’t weigh in on the issue at all, including Councilwoman Jill Gaebler and newly appointed Councilman James “Mike” O’Malley. 

The proposal would also change the fees developers pay and how the parks dollars may be allocated, and the council seemed largely supportive of those proposals. 

Fees may go up from about $76,600 per acre to $98,010 per acre for community parkland and to about $137,000 per acre for neighborhood parkland. The developers will also have to pay for the land to be platted for the first time, which includes drainage fees, Lieber said. The increase in fees will make it easier for the parks development to buy land, he said. 

The proposal would also require that fees paid for neighborhood parkland be kept within geographic districts in the city or within an adjacent district. Community parkland fees may still be used across the city because the parks tend to be destinations, Lieber said. 

Councilman Don Knight asked for the consultant to further define how far within an adjacent district neighborhood parks could be built to ensure that money for parks was spent in the general area where the homes were built. 

The council will take comment Feb. 9 on the parkland dedication issue and likely delay a vote on the measure until the second meeting in February to give council members time to process public comment.