Eagle County Commissioners: How should the next open space buy take place? | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Commissioners: How should the next open space buy take place?

Scott N. Miller
Eagle County, CO Colorado

EAGLE, Colorado – More information soon-er. That seems to be what both the Eagle County commissioners and the county’s Open Space Advisory Com-mittee want from the next landowner who asks for money from the county’s open space fund.

The commissioners and open space committee held a joint work session Monday evening, and at the top of the list was how to value property and at what point landowners should start talking to county officials.

The conversation about how to value land springs from the commis-sioners’ recent approval of $ 3 mil-lion in open space money to pur-chase a conservation easement – a contract not to develop land – on the Colorado River Ranch north of Dotsero.

The proposal that came to the committee and, ultimately, the com-missioners, with the land valued $ 13 million. The commissioners thought the real value of the land was closer to $ 10 million. That brought the county’s contribution to the preser-vation project to $ 3 million instead of the $ 4.7 million originally requested.

While the committee and the com-missioners talked about how best to value land these days – in the midst of an economic slump and a not-seen-in- years decline in property values – everyone at the table Monday agreed it would be a good idea to have as much information as possible about potential deals before public hearings were held.

Committee member Chupa Nelson said developers always talk to county planners before submitting proposals. The same should hold for open space, he said.

“It’s land use,” he said. ” Why shouldn’t they do it, too?”

Commissioner Sara Fisher said landowners need a process in which they can discover what the county is looking for – including public access to land – before giving out public money.

But how should applicants get that advice?

Most of the officials said they’d like to see the process start with the coun-ty planning staff. That can, and should, include questions and answers about property values, including what the applicant paid for the property.

“The last one (Colorado River Ranch), we should have had all of those negotiating facts beforehand,” Commissioner Peter Runyon said.

Both commissioners and commit-tee members said part of those early meetings should include more flexi-bility about the price of property.

The Eagle Valley Land Trust, an independent local nonprofit agency, has taken the lead on most of the applications the county has heard. It also has come to the county with fair-ly complete numbers on what land is worth and how much money would be needed to essentially pay not to develop it.

Land trust director New New Wal-lace said the nonprofit group’s mission isn’t going to change. But, she said, her group is willing to do just about anything asked by county officials.

“The land trust just wants to get these things done. Nobody’s holding their cards close to the vest,” Wallace said.

“The communication’s got to work better,” Nelson said. ” There’s no rea-son we couldn’t have these conversa-tions before anything happens.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.

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