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County ponders open space initiative today

Veronica Whitney

The Eagle Valley Citizens for Open Space has requested county commissioners consider a countywide, 1.5-mil tax to fund open space in Eagle County.

If the proposal makes the ballot and is approved by voters, the new tax could raise $2.9 million dollars per year, said Eagle County Administrator Jack Ingstad.

“We feel that this fund will help us achieve balanced growth – smart growth – in the county and help preserve the most important priorities identified in our survey: water, wildlife and our western heritage,” said Diana Cecala of the Eagle Valley Citizens for Open Space.



Cecala said the organization is working together with the Eagle Valley Land Trust to identify parcels.

Voters denied a similar open-space initiative in 1994 by a margin of 2-1.



“We feel we have support in the general population for our initiative,” Cecala said.

According to public survey conducted by the Eagle Valley Citizens for Open Space, 66 percent of those polled support the 1.5 mil tax to fund the purchase of open land in the county.

“The county already has contributed a significant amount of money in the past to fund the acquisition and preservation of open space,” Ingstad said.



Those projects included $1.5 million in 2000 for land on East and West Brush creeks and $2 million for the Berry Creek project in Edwards.

“A lot of this is based in how much money we can raise this year,” said County Commissioner Tom Stone. “In 1999, 2000 and 2001, we we able to lower the mil levy. But fees and permits are down this year.”

The county’s income comes from property and sales tax, as well as fees and permits.

County Commissioner Arn Menconi said he has supported this initiative in previous sessions.

“It’s important to allow this to be on the ballot to let the people decide,” he said.

Summit, Pitkin and Routt Counties already have tax-funded open-space programs.

If the initiative doesn’t pass, Cecala said, the land will not be available for purchase by the public at large. “It seems like a huge amount of money ($2.9 million),” she said. “But when you talk of purchasing land in the valley, it’s not that much.”

Vail already has a real estate transfer tax, or RETT, dedicated to acquiring open space. Since 1995, when voters approved a charter amendment, the RETT has resulted in the purchase of 18 parcels totalling 400 acres. For that reason the town may seek an exemption from the tax.

New wildfire regulations on the table

Also today, county commissioners will consider changing land-use regulations to incorporate wildfire mitigation measures.

The regulations aim to reduce the risk of fire spreading, as well as prevent wildfires. The measures would apply to all new construction in unincorporated areas in the county that are close to where high potential for wildland fires exist. The county Planning Commission has recommended approval of the measures, which include:

– Creating defensible space around the perimeter of new developments.

– Creating fire breaks within new developments.

– On-site management of fuels or vegetation, removing dead and diseased trees and strategic thinning of vegetation to help promote overall vegetation health while minimizing the hazard.

– Strategically locating building sites to avoid high or extreme hazard areas.

– Minimum standards for emergency vehicle access and turnaround areas.

– Minimum standards for firefighting water supply.

Local firefighters have said the proposed wildfire mitigation measures will not stop a fire but they will make it easier to combat it.

Public hearings today

What:

– Decision on a tax-supported initiative for open space, 10 a.m. today..

– Discussion on land-use regulations change to incorporate wildfire mitigation measures, 1:30 p.m. today

Who: Eagle County commissioners

When:

– Open space tax initiative at 1

– Wildfire regulations at 1

Where: Commissioners Chambers, Eagle County building, 550 Broadway, Eagle.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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