EL PASO COUNTY—At a joint meeting Wednesday of the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and the administration of the City of Colorado Springs at the Pikes Peak Regional Development Center, where many common issues were discussed, one subject caused a good deal of consternation, triggering a vigorous half-hour discussion over annexation.
On Wednesday afternoon, State Senator Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, introduced Senate Bill 20-147, that proposes to significantly modify Colorado’s Municipal Annexation Act of 1965 in ways that enhance the powers of counties and diminishes the power of cities to annex outside a city’s existing boundaries.
There was intense criticism of the bill from the city.
City officials, referring to the 1974 Poundstone Amendment to Colorado’s Constitution that prohibited Denver from annexing land in another county without a vote of approval from that county, called it “woefully ignorant of what happened to Denver… when the voters of Denver said Denver could no longer annex to support the cost of what was happening,” and “David Broadwell, one of the most knowledgeable municipal attorneys in the state says it’s the worst piece of annexation legislation he’s ever seen.”
But opinions differ on whether the amendment was a bane or a boom. The law remains in place and according to some, has helped Denver to define itself by forcing it to look inward rather than outward, resulting in what some call a remarkable and ongoing revitalization of what at the time was a decaying urban core.
What effects Gardner’s bill would have on Colorado Springs and other cities is unclear, but the BOCC is concerned that the city has not been particularly helpful in resolving annexation problems.
An example of the issues the BOCC has with recent annexations is the city’s refusal to annex an approximately 800-foot section of Northgate Boulevard between Struthers Road and I-25 as part of the City for Champions (C4C), True North Commons and Air Force Academy visitor’s center project on the west side of I-25.
County commissioners have been complaining about having to maintain that short strip of Northgate that’s county-owned.
According to Commissioner Holly Williams the city didn’t want to annex the adjacent Mining Museum property that lies north of the C4C annexation east of I-25, between it and Northgate Boulevard, because the cost of extending public utilities would be greater than the revenue the museum would generate.
The stretch of Northgate in question connects the county museum property to county property on the north side of the street along Struthers Road.
Annexing just the road would leave the museum as a county inholding inside city limits, which puts the burden of providing services on the county instead of the city.
Jeff Greene, Chief of Staff for Mayor John Suthers said, “It made no sense for the city not to annex that road. Why would we have the county control the access points to I-25 between two major annexed areas of the city?”
That’s the question Williams has been asking since she started her term in January, 2019.
Greene and others are now calling for an intergovernmental agreement to deal with city/county annexation and planning conflicts. That’s a reversal from how the city has handled relations with the county in the past.
There are numerous other parcels inside city limits that are still legally in the county, including a two-lane stretch of Marksheffel Road south of East Woodman Road.
This, says Williams, causes a significant bottleneck on the otherwise four-lane city street that interferes with employees getting to work at Peterson Air Force Base.
“It’s very bad for our military because there’s that section of Markscheffel that the county owns that we don’t have the money to fix,” said Williams.
Calling for better communications and referencing the secrecy surrounding the recent Banning Lewis Ranch annexation restatement Willams said, “You can’t bring us into those discussions, those are discussions occurring between attorneys.”
“We take responsibility, we’re not communicating,” said City Council President Richard Skorman.
El Paso BOCC President Mark Waller was not present at the meeting, but was the target of criticism from Councilman Bill Murray.
“Bob Gardner, with Mark Waller’s assistance is making this annexation-blocking proposal,” said Murray.
Murray wanted to know if other BOCC members were part of drafting the legislation.
“You’re saying the president of the county commission went forward on his own, there’s no other buy in there’s no other discussion about this,” said Murray. “If anybody’s involved in this, I’d like to know why we weren’t informed. And I know why, because you knew we were going to get upset about it.”
“I’m not going to say that, I have not seen the bill,” said Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr. “I have no idea what’s in the bill.”
Addressing the BOCC Murry said, “You can at least acknowledge that you didn’t vote to support this bill.”
“There has been no vote and no discussion. We have discussed annexation issues, but not this bill,” said Gonzalez.
The other commissioners present, Kami Bremer, Holly Williams and Stan VanderWerf all echoed that statement.
Commissioner VanderWerf said, “I think what’s very important at this point is that regardless of what has happened in the recent past or in the distant past, we’re at a perfect point. We’re building our county master plan for land use policy, you’re building your annexation plan. Let’s collaborate. Let’s work together and do these two documents at the same time. Let’s work together and get there.”
The discussion on annexation continued for another 15 minutes or so, mostly focusing on water issues.