The Colorado Springs City Council finalized annexation of 183 acres of U.S. Air Force Academy property at the Academy’s north entrance Tuesday. The annexation brings into the city the Academy’s planned visitor’s center, which is part of Mayor Suther’s City for Champions project.
It also opens-up 58 acres of Academy property on the west side of I-25 straddling Northgate Blvd. to commercial development. The bulk of the project lies north of Northgate Blvd.
True North Commons, a development of Blue & Silver Development Partners of Colorado Springs, will offer 740,000 square feet of hotels, restaurants, commercial office space and an indoor skydiving facility. Maximum building height is set at 120 feet or lower depending on the specific use.
At the public hearing concerns were voiced by the public about the development’s impact on the habitat of the endangered Preble’s meadow jumping mouse.
Councilman Bill Murray argued that the annexation was premature because the required federal environmental impact statements are still being completed. He said there was no reason to rush the annexation through before all the necessary documents are in the record.
Council President Richard Skorman said that the annexation is not dependent on the environmental impact statements because no final development plan has been approved. The annexation, he said, can be reversed if necessary if the development is denied by the Environmental Protection Agency on endangered species grounds.
City code says that no property rights are vested in the developer until a final development plan is approved by City Council after both staff and Planning Commission review and approval.
Citizens will have several opportunities throughout the process to be heard on the final plan.
The land use concept plan submitted with the annexation petition remains valid for six years, as does the final development plan.
Public comments during several public hearings expressed concerns about the development’s visual impact on the view of the Academy and questions were raised about why the development could not be moved to the east side of I-25, near the Bass Pro Shops development.
A concern about the legality of citizens holding concealed carry permits using the commercial development facilities while armed was investigated by Complete Colorado.
Meade Warthen, the Academy’s Chief of Media Relations replied in an email statement saying:
“The 10th Air Base Wing Commander sets the policy for any personally owned firearms (POF) brought on to USAFA. POFs are not authorized in any facility on USAFA, to include the Falcon Stadium, or in any controlled area.
Concealed carry is limited to Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act (LEOSA) credentialed personnel who possess a Department of Defense (DoD) Common Access Card, credentialed civilian law enforcement in performance of official duties, and credentialed agents assigned to Defense Criminal Investigative Organizations.
The possession of any concealed weapon outside of this criterion is illegal except in the performance of special official duties as outlined in DoD or Air Force directives.”
Regarding the new Visitor Center and adjacent commercial space, guidance is still being developed. USAFA will coordinate with local law enforcement to establish agreements in this new development.”
Warthan said that both the New Santa Fe trail and the commercial development are currently within the base perimeter, but also noted that some Air Force property, including I-25 and parts of Interquest Parkway are on Air Force property but outside of the base perimeter.
An issue was raised by El Paso County Commissioner Holly Williams about the annexation leaving about 580 feet of Northgate Blvd. at the intersection with Struthers Rd. as well as the adjacent Mining Museum property out of the annexation.
“We have little pockets all over the city that they never annexed,” said Williams. “They are asking the county to give up a lot of tax revenue but they are not willing to make a logical annexation.”
Traffic on that part of Northgate Blvd. will likely increase due to the visitor’s center and commercial development within the city, but the costs of maintaining that small stretch of road will remain with the county.
Williams suspects the city doesn’t want to pay for improvements like water, power and sewer to the Mining Museum because it doesn’t generate enough revenue to cover the costs.
The annexation passed on a 7-2 vote with Councilmen Murray and Avila voting no.