Basalt backs open space district |

Basalt backs open space district

Backers of a downvalley open space district are confident their proposal has widespread support – even from Republican men from Garfield County, as recent polls show.

But they weren’t sure until Tuesday night that they had the support of the Basalt Town Council.

Open space proponents patched shaky relations with some Basalt Town Council members and walked away with an endorsement.

Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens accused open space backers of keeping town officials out of the communications loop.

He also expressed concern that the proposed open space district’s literature misleads midvalley residents into thinking it would fund development of recreational facilities at the Sopris Tree Farm.

In reality, approval of the open space district would generate funds to buy land and preserve it from development. A secondary focus would be funding trails and access to rivers and public lands, according to steering committee member Bob Schultz.

It would not fund soccer fields or other amenities at the tree farm.

“That message is not clear. It’s not clear in your literature,” said Stevens. The proposed district calls itself an open space, parks and recreation district. When people learn their vote won’t raise funds for soccer fields, they might not support the open space district, Stevens alleged.

“There’s a lot of people saying `What’s in it for me? If it doesn’t have soccer fields, I’m not voting for it,'” the mayor said.

But Schultz countered that extensive polling earlier this year by the open space proponents showed that the highest support within the proposed district came from Basalt and Eagle County.

The group’s own polls showed that two-thirds of respondents throughout the proposed district would support a property tax to buy and preserve open space.

“Every demographic group supported this – even Garfield County Republican males,” said Schultz.

Schultz said he was disappointed to hear the Garfield County Commissioners say earlier this month that they had been lobbied by Basalt officials to oppose the open space district.

In fact, Schultz said, two commissioners said Basalt officials “hated” the proposal.

But Schultz’s focus was settling disputes with Basalt, not seeking retribution.

“The support of the town of Basalt is very important to us,” he said.

Stevens claimed he never said he hated the proposal, but he did vent frustrations to Commissioners Walt Stowe and John Martin because the open space backers hadn’t talked to the Basalt Town Council.

“I apologize for taking a sort of dim view earlier,” he said.

Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt suggested the officials stop dwelling on past relations and settle the issue of support.

“I, for one, am gung-ho on open space acquisition,” she said. “There’s not enough money in the world to make a dent on open space acquisition in this valley.”

The Basalt board’s support was unanimous.

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