Ruth Banning operated the Banning Ranch south of Colorado Springs, established by her father in 1897. She sold this ranch for land 10 miles east of the city in 1917, married Raymond “Pinky” Lewis in 1921 and together they formed the Banning-Lewis ranch in 1924. They slowly added properties to eventually consolidate the ranch into over 30,000 acres. In poor condition after a history of mismanagement and overgrazing, the Soil Conservation Service, created in 1935, helped build 3,000 miles of terracing, 50 stock water dams, 3 soil saving dams, and 6,000 feet of irrigation ditches. The ranch was awarded a soil conservation award in 1948 and was renowned for its Herefords. Ruth died in 1962, and in 1963 Pinky sold 23,000 acres of the ranch. U.S. Steel purchased the land for its pension fund investment, and after Pinky died in 1978, the company bought another 7,000 acres. In 1988 Colorado Springs annexed 24,000 acres of the Banning Lewis Ranch into the city limits, an area almost ¼ of the city’s total size. Developers envisioned housing for 175,000 people in this annexation alone. To manage urban sprawl, the city imposed fees to shift costs of development to builders rather than taxpayers. Strict codes charged developers for roads, drainage, parks and trails, plus required land for fire and police stations and a site for public transit. Shortly after annexation the Savings and Loan Crisis hit Colorado Springs hard. The city became known as the foreclosure capital of the country and the planned developments did not happen. Banning Lewis property passed through numerous owners, two that went bankrupt. In 2010 Ultra Petroleum bought the land hoping to find natural gas. The Banning Lewis property was bought by the Nor’Wood Development Group in 2014. They pointed out that houses were being built in unincorporated El Paso County farther east, leapfrogging over the Banning Lewis tract. Regulatory costs were driving urban sprawl beyond city limits, an unintended consequence of urban planning policies that were supposed to reign in sprawl. A revised annexation agreement was approved by City Council in 2018 aligning development costs with other city planning policies. The new vision now targets 62,000 residents. Given that the massive $1 billion-plus Southern Delivery System was built exclusively to provide water for this growing part of the city, policies to develop Banning Lewis help justify the water delivery expenses current city residents pay for future citizens.
Generously Submitted by Dr. John Harner, Professor of Geography & environmental Studies, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs