Vail Valley Voices: Why open space matters
Vail, CO, Colorado
Eagle County’s open space property tax approaches a 10-year anniversary of voter approval next year. It is scheduled to sunset in 2025. A couple of citizens have requested in these hard times that we put this open space fund up to the voters for deauthorization.
Here is why as commissioner I am not considering a deauthorization vote:
I heard loud and clear during my election cycle and since that citizens value the fund. I heard many voters want these dollars spent in ways they can appreciate on a daily basis — properties they can view and, better yet, creating access from their neighborhoods.
I heard that access to rivers was sub-par. I heard that many of the program’s early conservation successes did not meet this desire for proximity and access.
Growing the river tourism segment of our economy has great economic and quality-of-life value to this community. Recent purchases target the dismal public access to both the Eagle and Colorado rivers. These are public amenities flowing through the valley that bring visitors from around the world. Yet little has been done to create a system of access worthy of this public amenity-until now.
We have plans under way with the BLM to create and manage more access points on the Colorado River. I would like to see a similar effort on the Eagle River in coming years.
The Eagle Valley Land Exchange is a 2,175 acre deal set in motion in 2008 among Eagle County, Avon, the State Land Board and the Forest Service that will secure public access on properties near neighborhoods in Edwards and Avon while conserving those properties.
That pending deal also positions the Eagle-Vail commercial strip for much-needed redevelopment. It dovetails perfectly with the master planning process for that district.
It also opens landlocked Lindholdm properties in Avon for development.
This trade has tremendous economic value to the valley in addition to preservation values, and it is made possible by open space funding.
The “L” parcel in Homestead is a great example of open space spending that has both preservation values and access values. When the parking area is complete, people from across the valley will be able to legally enjoy previously inaccessible national forest lands.
Though 83 percent of the county is federal lands, access to so much of it is blocked by private properties.
Valid, strictly preservationist arguments remain from when the open space fund was created: preserving working ranches, critical habitat and view corridors from additional sprawl. Admittedly, that “quality of life” directive alone may not be enough reason to let the voter authorization play out for the next 13 years. That part, detractors understand.
There has not been a time in recent memory that such a robust funding mechanism aligns with low property values and opportunities align with quality of life, preservation and economic development all at the same time.
The open space fund is one place where we do have resources and can get such things done.
Current and pending deals involve many partnerships. Were we to put the funding into question, those partners — which include the State Land Board and U.S. Forest Service in the Eagle Valley Land Exchange, and the Bureau of Land Management and state Division of Wildlife in our rivers projects, the local outfitter community in the rivers initiative, the towns of Avon, Eagle, Gypsum and Edwards — may question their confidence in our ability to follow through. Outstanding state GOCO grants, and federal Land and Water Conservation Fund grant opportunities would evaporate if our commitment to open space disappeared.
We stand to leverage our current investment and be refunded back some of the money if we show long term commitment — especially on the Colorado River properties the BLM is poised to buy back from us, not to mention sales tax revenues that flow through those visitors who come because they love our rivers.
In short, it is a poor time for Eagle County to pull back through risking deauthorization on the ballot.
That is why we are not currently considering putting the open space up for voter deauthorization.
Jon Stavney is an Eagle County