Do developers hope to stop fracking, too?

Banning Lewis RanchBy Steven Saint and Trudy Thomas

Fracking opponents concerned about air and water pollution from Ultra Petroleum wells on Banning Lewis Ranch may have some unwitting allies.

A close look at the upcoming city council election suggests that local developers and sustainability advocates may be on the same side of this one.

First came the Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs (HBA) endorsements, made surprisingly more than three weeks before the filing deadline for candidates.

The HBA puts its money where its mouth is and in 2011, for example, saw seven of its eight anointed get elected.

This year, the money goes to Tim Leigh, Angela Dougan, Keith King, Deborah Hendrix, Al Loma and David Moore.

Incumbents Leigh and Dougan made the list while fellow councilmembers Bernie Herpin and Brandy Williams did not, passed over in favor of Loma and career politician King. Any common thread between the two? King founded Early Colleges Charter School and Loma, pastor of Victory Outreach Chapel, co-founded STAR Charter Academy.

Further, King’s Early College board president, Deborah Hendrix, made the list and shares King’s campaign manager, Daniel Cole.

Loma’s campaign manager, Micah Will, turns out to be the son of M. Kim and Cindee Walker Will, assistant principal at James Irwin Charter. Cindee ran for the Harrison School D-2 board in 2005.

The younger Will is managing David Moore’s campaign as well.

There’s one pivotal connection between charter school advocates and developers – Steve Schuck, the former employer of now-Mayor Steve Bach and an outspoken proponent of vouchers and choice in education.

Yet, the fact that the HBA is throwing money at Schuck’s council choices (yes, he endorsed the same list), half of them with direct ties to local charters, is hardly earth shattering. More intriguing is Micah Will’s interest in Ultra Petroleum.

Nestled amid campaign tweets for Loma and Moore sits a gleeful poke at the oil and gas giant’s poor stock rating, currently at an eight-year low. Why would Will be watching Ultra?

Could it be local developers like Schuck want Banning Lewis Ranch for themselves?

RELATED: Elections 2013: Pro-sustainability candidates hard to find

Schuck’s interest in developing Banning Lewis Ranch for housing is well known. A 2011 Gazette story reported that Schuck Corp. wanted to buy the sprawling acreage out of bankruptcy. Last summer, Schuck told the Gazette that even in the current economic downturn his company would survive.

How, the reporter asked? By buying projects other developers have lost and that lenders are selling at a discount, Schuck said.

If Ultra pull out of Banning Lewis Ranch, it would behoove Schuck to have a favorable council ready to go.

Schuck may not be the only one eyeing Banning Lewis Ranch. Denver’s Oakwood Homes snapped up a piece of the pie when a portion of the ranch was put up for sale by the lender.

It seems Oakwood’s interest has not waned either. The company contributed $1,500 to Moore’s campaign and $1,000 to Hendrix. Moore is running in District 6 where Banning Lewis Ranch is located and Hendrix in District 4, also on Colorado Springs’ east side.

As with any analysis, interpreting campaign documents may raise more questions than it answers and lead to conclusions that fall short of the truth. But for now, nail-biters might want to give it a rest and allow seasoned fighters like Steve Schuck to lead the charge.

Steven Saint is the executive director of the PPJPC. Trudy Thomas is the PPJPC Associate Director for Media.

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