Colorado Springs auditor recommends changes to city code in light of Banning Lewis Ranch study

By Conrad Swanson Updated: March 20, 2018 at 7:42 am • Published: March 19, 2018 0
photo - Cattails grow in an open space with trails between neighborhoods of the Banning Lewis Ranch development Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, on the east side of Colorado Springs. Colo.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Cattails grow in an open space with trails between neighborhoods of the Banning Lewis Ranch development Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, on the east side of Colorado Springs. Colo. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Colorado Springs should change its codes and master plans to be more consistent in providing park, police and fire services to annexed properties, City Auditor Denny Nester recommends.

Nester reviewed a study by the national TischlerBise Inc., which found that with a new annexation agreement, Banning Lewis Ranch could generate $49 million in net revenue for the city and add billions to its economy.

The study's findings are reasonable, Nester said. It predicts that about 7,400 acres could be developed with nearly 24,000 houses or with apartments for 62,000 people over the next 30 years.

But the city's Park Land Dedication Ordinance - which requires developers to donate park land or open space or be fined - does not align with the city's Parks System Master Plan, Nester said.

On the 7,400 acres of Banning Lewis eyed for development, the ordinance would require builders to provide 549 acres for parks, while the master plan would require only 340 acres, he said.

And the proposed new annexation agreement would require only 205 acres from developers.

City Councilman Andy Pico, whose District 6 includes much of the ranch, said he and others on the council are aware of the discrepancies and want to change the city's code.

The new annexation agreement would stipulate that developers follow the city code's requirements, Pico said.

Nester noted that while park requirements are cited in the city code, developer fees for police and fire services are not.

The proposed annexation agreement would charge developers $2,308 per acre for police and fire services, a charge that aligns with other annexation agreements, Nester said.

But he said he couldn't find how city staff settled on that number.

The fees are used to buy land, build police and fire stations and outfit the first responders who work there.

City staff "should develop a clear policy and methodology for calculation of police and fire fees" and incorporate them into city code, Nester said in his report.

Pico said the staff could finish updating the code to meet Nester's recommendations by the end of the year.

But when fees should be collected is still at issue. .

Nester said the fees should be paid as soon as city planners approve each developer's plots, legally defining the properties.

"If the city gets the fees earlier, it could invest them, it could hold them," Nester said. "It puts the money in the city's coffers versus the developers holding onto them."

But Bob Cope, the city's economic development manager, said developers shouldn't pay until they reach the building permitting process.

"If you don't have people, if you don't have structures, then you don't need those services at that time," Cope said.

Higher costs up front for developers ultimately are passed on to home buyers, he said.

But the City Council will approve all city code changes, including when to charge developers.

First the council will decide in April whether to approve the new annexation agreement, Cope said.

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