Summit County eyes permanent protection for open space
summit daily news
FRISCO – Summit County Commissioners aim to set aside some attractive open space properties for permanent protection from development, but options must be weighed to find a balanced approach.
“It would have been a shame not to see the hospital developed on land that could have been open-space land or conservation easements,” county manager Gary Martinez said at a recent meeting of the Summit County Open Space Advisory Council.
He added that it’s also important to consider whether the level of protection could perhaps allow for affordable housing.
While existing open space land could be developed with the approval of just two commissioners, court action would be required to undo a conservation easement. Another option – rezoning the land for open space – would complicate development, but ultimately it still would leave the decision to two county commissioners.
The existing commissioners want more protection for 17 properties determined by the advisory council to need a higher level of safeguarding from development.
In other counties, public officials have considered open space land a potential resource for revenue, especially when times are tough. Summit Commissioner Thomas Davidson said he would prefer to “protect ourselves from ourselves.”
“I could envision a set of commissioners saying, ‘Jeez, this may be the easy way out,'” he said.
Among the 17 properties is the Fishhook open space: 35 acres in the Snake River basin acquired in 2007 through a donation valued at $430,000 and open space mill-levy funds of $1.5 million.
“We as commissioners are keenly interested in appropriate protection of certain parcels that are of concern to us,” Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said at Wednesday’s OSAC meeting. “Fishhook is a good example of that.”
The 77.5 acres of Tenderfoot Meadows East and West properties – also in the Snake River basin – were acquired in the late 1990s. This undeveloped land along the corridor between Dillon and Keystone hosts wildlife and is used by local residents for its hiking trails.
The 924 acre Cow Camp property in the Lower Blue basin is the largest property included in the list, which spans the county.
Commissioner Bob French said at the meeting that the “ultimate protection” of the properties would be something reversible only by vote of the public, but that such an option “seems overkill.”
“Some slice less than that whole should be able to do the job,” he said.
OSAC member Art Girten said other counties such as Boulder and Jefferson “have already wrestled with this” and may be able to contribute some “good ideas” toward long-term plans for Summit.
Davidson said it’s important to understand future land needs before deciding on permanent protection for the properties.
“What we’re talking about is significant and would last for a long time,” Davidson said. “I don’t think we need to rush.”
Summit County’s open space land includes more than 14,000 acres acquired through donations and purchases.
Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or email@example.com.