Saturday, July 2, 2011

BLR: The SDS reason & customer

(originally posted on 4/14/11 as part of my "Decoding Skorman" series)

Banning-Lewis Ranch, circa 1950
Banning talks over reservoir at a 'stalemate'
Date: February 18, 2006 Publication: The Gazette Author: ED SEALOVER

A few days after the Colorado Springs City Council allowed construction to begin on Banning-Lewis Ranch, a Colorado Springs Utilities official said talks for a new reservoir on the site aren't going as smoothly as he'd like.

Colorado Springs Utilities has acquired one third of the land needed for the reservoir and hasn't been allowed onto the property to survey it.

Bob Robler, project manager for the Southern Delivery System, described the situation as a "stalemate," while the ranch's main developer said he is working hard to resolve the situation.

Robler called the lack of response unusual and said the lack of access makes the utility's job harder. Still, he said he isn't terribly worried because it's the developer who will suffer most if the reservoir is delayed.

"The primary customer of the Southern Delivery System will be the Banning-Lewis Ranch, so it's going to be very difficult for them to build much without having the water treatment plant in place," he said.

John Cassiani, vice president of the Banning-Lewis Ranch Management Co., was surprised to learn this week of Robler's concerns.

The company just finished three months of negotiations that resulted in an agreement requiring it to pay for a $100 million sewer plant, Cassiani said. It plans to turn its attention to the reservoir, he said.

The 24,000-acre ranch on the city's eastern edge is expected to hold 175,000 people as it builds out during the next 40 years. Tuesday, the City Council approved the first phase of construction, a 1,000-home, 329-acre area in the ranch's northwestern corner.

Banning-Lewis is a main reason the utility is constructing the Southern Delivery System, a pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to increase daily water intake by 50 percent.

Once constructed, the pipeline will deliver water to Jimmy Camp Creek Reservoir, a planned storage area on the ranch. The pipeline and a water treatment plant, if approved by the federal Bureau of Reclamation, are scheduled for completion by 2012 and the reservoir by 2017.

The utility has acquired about 750 acres for the reservoir and surrounding parkland. About 350 were donated by ranch owners as required by an annexation agreement, and the other 400 were bought from 14 property owners for $6.425 million, Robler said.

The utility needs 1,475 more acres for the reservoir, and that land belongs to Capital Pacific Holdings, the local ranch management company's parent company in California.

Utility officials had the land appraised in late 2003 and concluded it was worth just under $3,700 an acre -- a figure it forwarded to the owner, Robler said. That's less than the $16,000 an acre it has paid, but Robler said the unacquired land is vacant and encumbered by power lines.

It is typical for the city to offer a price and have a property owner counteroffer, Robler noted. But Capital Pacific has never responded, he said.

It hasn't even allowed surveyors onto the property to determine the path of the pipeline or how to build the reservoir, Robler said. The utility can't start on either until the Bureau of Reclamation makes a decision on the pipeline late next year, but surveyors need to be on the land by May to keep work on schedule, he said.

Cassiani noted that no one at the firm remembers getting a price offer from the utility, just an appraisal. Owners want to discuss a price comparable to that for which the ranch could sell the land, he said.

The land is zoned for lowdensity residential use, city planning director Bill Healy said.
Surveyors have not been allowed onto the property, Cassiani said, because of a dispute between the ranch and the utility over the scope of the work. The utility essentially wanted access to the entire ranch, he said, while owners want to hold it to the area of the reservoir.

Cassiani expressed optimism that with the sewagetreatment plant agreement out of the way, negotiations on the land sale will go quickly.

"Our plans are to sit down with Colorado Springs Utilities and work through this together," he said.

Vice Mayor Larry Small noted that if ranch owners continue to keep utility workers off the property, the city can take the ranch to court. But he anticipates a deal being worked out before it reaches that level.

Other council members said they could have held up approval of the first phase of development over the reservoir issue, the same as they did over the sewage plant. But several said that with the water treatment plant not due to be built for six years, they have time to hold up future development if negotiations falter.

"For the first phase, (the reservoir) is not critical. We just have to make sure it's in place for other phases of the development as they come on," Councilman Richard Skorman said. "We need to get there, and we need to make sure the property owner's responding."

Copyright 2009 The Gazette

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