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Local Developer Acquires Massive Chunk of Banning Lewis Ranch

The massive, mostly undeveloped Banning Lewis Ranch was in the news this week, when local developer Nor'wood Development Group announced it had purchased an 18,000 acre parcel of land there. The sale fueled speculation about what changes, if any, would need to be made to the development's master plan and an annexation agreement that makes developers responsible for a handful of municipal expenses. Nor'wood's involvement was also seen as encouraging to conservationists that would like to see the majority of the land within the Banning Lewis Ranch preserved as open space. Nor'wood's future plans for Banning Lewis will also hinge on a possible expansion of Peterson Air Force Base, which borders the Ranch on the west side.

Prior to 1988, the Banning Lewis Ranch served as the site for one of the most successful cattle-ranching operations in the state. Colorado Springs annexed just over 24,000 acres of the land in 1988, marking the largest annexation in the city's storied history. At the time, the land was owned by developer Frank Aries, who would default on the property less than a year after it was annexed. The property would remain in bank hands for nearly four years before a group of Saudi Arabian billionaires formed the Banning Lewis Ranch Corp and purchased the parcel. The property went through a handful of owners in the ensuing years until Ultra Petroleum of Canada purchased 18,000 acres in June 2011, with the intention of exploring the land for oil. Ultra abandoned oil exploration plans two years later and listed the property for sale.

Banning Lewis Ranch has become a hot button issue in recent years, and it seems as if everyone that chimes in on the issue has a different vision. As you might expect, city leaders are in favor of amending the development plans to build industrial ad business parks, allowing the city to generate the money it will need to build infrastructure and municipal services like fire and police stations. Conservationists, on the other hand, are hopeful that more than half of the land will be left undeveloped, serving as open space that Banning Lewis Ranch residents can be proud of just like West Springs residents feel about the Garden of the Gods park. Neither of those visions will likely be able to move forward, however, unless significant changes are made to the community master plan and the original annexation agreement.

The original annexation agreement drawn up in 1988 is very clear in requiring developers to absorb the cost of infrastructure. And the agreement doesn't stop at roads and bridges, either, as developers will have to build and equip five fire stations within the development, even going so far as to dictate the exact sites where the stations will be. The agreement also requires developers to fund flood studies on both the Jimmy Camp Creek Drainage Basin and the San Creek basin, as well as come up with any cash the city needs to get services up and running should revenues fall short. Any changes that are eventually made to the annexation agreement and Banning Lewis master plan will have to be approved by the city council.

June 19, 2014

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