Commissioners support open space policy, tax |

Commissioners support open space policy, tax

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

Pitkin County commissioners expressed support Tuesday for a new open space policy emphasizing biodiversity and defended efforts to ask voters to reauthorize the open space property tax in November.

“This (biodiversity policy) really puts an exclamation point on biodiversity as it becomes a critical component to the program,” Commissioner George Newman said. “It’s a great policy to have in place.”

The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board adopted the policy last week after a lengthy discussion. The Protection of Biodiversity and the Management of Human Use policy directs open space officials to use science to determine which human-use restrictions best protect biodiversity on the more than 4,700 acres owned by the open space program.

The building of trails on and the accessibility of those open space lands has surfaced as an issue of late, with equestrians and wildlife advocates criticizing what they see as a bias toward mountain bikers and a lack of respect toward wildlife.

The issue came up again Tuesday.

Lisa Tasker, a Roaring Fork Valley resident, criticized the emphasis on trail building and asked the board to schedule meetings with the “conservation community” before the November election to find out how they think the open space program and commissioners are doing.

“I’m not the only one who thinks the program has become too closed off, except from the recreation community,” Tasker said. “I don’t think people ever imagined so much emphasis on trails.”

Commissioner Patti Clapper later reminded the audience that the name of the program contains the word “trails” and that commissioners must take into account recreation and public access to open space land.

Also discussed Tuesday was the open space board’s finalizing of ballot language last week to reauthorize the 3.75 mill levy for another 20 years and reallocate how the program’s resources can be spent. The program needs to mature to one focused more on land management rather than acquisitions, which is why those changes need to be made, open space officials have said.

The open space mill levy is not scheduled to expire until 2020.

Greg Poschman, who is running for the county board, attended Tuesday’s meeting and asked commissioners if they thought the public would be comfortable with changing the maximum percentage allowed to be used toward development projects from 30 percent to 40 percent. He asked if the public would have a say in such decisions.

Commissioner Rachel Richards said that if the community doesn’t want the issue to go forward with reauthorizing the mill levy, then the board would wait until 2020 to ask the question. However, such action would likely hamstring the program because officials couldn’t change their management practices and also probably couldn’t undertake any major acquisitions because of the uncertainty of whether the property tax would be renewed.

“The public always has a say,” Richards said.

Dale Will, the open space executive director, said the reason for having the 40 percent cut-off has to do with building paved, commuter-type trails, which are expensive, rather than the single-track trails, which are relatively inexpensive, that wildlife advocates have criticized.

Commissioners are scheduled to hear the first reading of the biodiversity policy at today’s meeting. After a second reading, the policy will become official.