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Preservation standards OK’d for open space

Veronica Whitney Daily Staff Writer
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The Eagle County Board of Commissioners Tuesday unanimously approved a set of standards that will be used to evaluate open space proposals. The criteria will be what the committee’s 14 members follow in advising the commissioners on which projects should be funded with the open space tax passed by voters in 2002.

The commissioners will make the final decision on where to spend the $3 million that the county will collect this year.

“It’s an exiting place to be at,” said Ron Wolfe, the Avon town councilman who is chairman of the committee. “We’ve been working for two months on the criteria and we came up with a good product that includes the best practices of different communities and open space organizations. The criteria is quantitative and objective. We’re ready to test it out with some proposals.”

Eagle County planner Cliff Simonton said the criteria is consistent with standards applied by other counties in the region, such as Summit, Pitkin and Routt counties.

“We researched closely over nine different jurisdictions and we pulled the best pieces of those programs into Eagle County’s,” Simonton said. “We’ve got a system now that will do a very good job in evaluating and prioritizing candidate properties. We will need to apply it to see how well it will work.”

The next step is to set a timeline to review projects, Wolfe said.

“The steps we took (Tuesday) were very important, but an equally important part is deciding the timeline in the process for submitting applications,” County Commissioner Tom Stone said. “In order to achieve fairness in applications, we need to come up with a submission date.

“We’ll soon make a decision on the application deadlines,” Stone added. “Staff is recommending twice a year – July 31 and Jan. 31.”

Although no proposals have been submitted to county staff yet, Wolfe said the Bair Ranch conservation deal may soon be reviewed. The ranch straddles of the border of Eagle and Garfield counties in Glenwood Canyon.

“Since the preservation of the Bair Ranch is on the table, that application might be treated as an exception,” Wolfe said. “All the partners are lined up. As soon as we get that application we would send it to the commissioners.”

In July, Eagle County Commissioners Arn Menconi and Michael Gallagher approved a $2 million contribution towards the deal. But that money was taken back when no contract was reached between the owners of the ranch and conservationists.

In January, after more than two years of negotiations, The Conservation Fund signed a conservation easement contract with Bair Ranch owners Craig and Legrande Bair. The project, which would protect more than 4,300 acres from, further development, already has federal and state financial support. However, Tom Macy of The Conservation Fund said help from the county is crucial to complete the purchase of the easement.

“The Open Space Advisory Committee has done a fabulous job in a short period of time,” Stone said. “We needed to have a starting point. It might be amended over time.”

For Eagle County Commissioner Mike Gallagher, the Open Space Advisory Committee, has done a “marvelous job putting the criteria together.”

“I like its thoroughness and how it has been developed,” Gallagher said. “They can use this criteria to develop priorities.”

The commissioners also approved the bylaws of the Open Space Advisory Committee. The bylaws set three-year terms for the members in the committee.

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

A look at the standards

1. Scenic landscapes and vistas: preserve and protect Eagle County’s “outstanding natural beauty and visual quality.”

2. Regional heritage, agriculture and ranching: retain Eagle County’s historic, cultural and agricultural land uses.

3. Wildlife and migration routes: set aside areas critical to the long-term health and vitality of indigenous wildlife.

4. Sensitive lands and environments: protect rivers, flood plains and other sensitive, unique or endangered ecosystems.

5. Physical and visual buffers: promote community separation and distinction, and provide separation between developed areas and sensitive lands.

6. Access to streams, rivers, public lands and recreation areas: provide access to public lands and improve opportunities for high-quality recreation.

Additional criteria also will include partnering, funding and other arrangements that will reduce the county’s portion of the purchase costs; conformance with county master plans; project urgency; property encumbrances; community support; and potential educational benefits.

Projects will be rated on a scale of a zero to four, with four being the highest.

For more information, contact Cliff Simonton at the Eagle County Community Development department at 328-8730.

Analysis and funding keys to conservation

By Veronica Whitney Daily Staff Writer

Getting funds from the open space tax will be a two-stage process, said committee chairman Ron Wolfe.

The first stage will be a conceptual review of the proposed preservation project.

“A minimal amount of information is necessary at this stage,” Wolfe said. “The purpose is to do a quick analysis and give the commissioners a chance to say if a project should move forward. We don’t expect many projects to get rejected at this stage.”

In addition to the committee, county staff will also review the open space proposals and provide comment before the project is passed to county commissioners, Wolfe said.

In the second stage, details will be nailed down, Wolfe said. That includes easement contracts, setting the final price and lining up other sources of financing.

“This is a public process and the committee will hold public hearings on a project before taking a final vote,” Wolfe said. “The commissioners will have the final vote on any project.”

Although the committee hasn’t received an application for the Bair Ranch yet, Wolfe said he expects to see the project move straight to the second stage. Conservationists are trying to put a $5 million conservation easement on more than 4,300 acres of the Bair Ranch to protect it from future development.

The federal government, through the Bureau of Land Management, has already committed $1.5 million to the project. And the board of directors of the state lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado Program, or GOCO, gave another $600,000 to help purchase the easement. This is the second time GOCO has granted money to the deal, which is yet to be finalized. Last spring, GOCO committed $400,000 to purchase the easement. Additional money will be raised by the Eagle Valley Land Trust, a local conservation group.

“The Bair Ranch is very far along, all the partners are lined up and as soon as we get that application, we would send it to the commissioners with our recommendation,” Wolfe said.

The biggest question is how long it would take to go through, Wolfe added. County commissioners still need to decide on deadlines for the projects.

“Now that the program is open we’re soliciting applications,” said Cliff Simonton, an Eagle County planner. “There is a possibility that a person who is interested in setting land aside … might want to keep it confidential. At the request of a land owner, initial conversations will be kept confidential.”


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