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Moore hopes land remains open space

Janet Urquhart

At least one Aspenite isn’t crazy about the idea of building hundreds of affordable housing units on the Moore Open Space – the man whose family name is attached to the land.

“Obviously, I and my family sold that land for open space. We hope it would continue to be open space. That’s it in a nutshell,” said Tom Moore, who has been quietly observing the latest pressure to use public open space for some other purpose.

The 65-acre tract at the corner of Highway 82 and Maroon Creek Road was the first major purchase for the fledging Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program in 1992. The estate of James E. Moore sold the prime piece of real estate for $3 million.

Area resident Chuck Vidal has floated a proposal to construct affordable housing on the property and preserve the city-owned Burlingame Ranch land as open space instead. City voters have endorsed a plan to build up to 225 units for local workers at Burlingame, but Vidal last week urged the county commissioners to take one last look at housing sites that are closer to town and less likely to promote sprawl. The discussion quickly narrowed to the Moore property.

Vidal has suggested the county ask voters what they think about building housing on the Moore parcel and keeping Burlingame open. Burlingame is located between the Maroon Creek Club and Aspen Airport Business Center.

Moore had stayed out of the public discussion, but he said Monday that he would not be surprised to see the idea make it onto a ballot.

“If the voters said, `OK, let’s put 225 homes out there,’ at that point in time, I’d probably say, `Hey, wait a minute,'” Moore said.

Moore said his family would likely ask to be paid the current fair market value of the land if it is converted to housing – a use prohibited by the deed restrictions placed on the property at the time of its sale.

Though the plan for Burlingame Village won handily in an August 2000 vote of Aspen residents, the housing proposal was hotly debated. A vocal and well-financed group of opponents fought the measure. Mayor Rachel Richards suspects proposed use of the Moore Open Space would be just as contentious.

“If people considered Burlingame a divisive election, I’m sure this issue would be five times so,” she said.

Proponents of the Moore-Burlingame switch may have underestimated public sentiment when it comes to developing lands purchased with public dollars as open space, Richards added.

“I don’t think they have at all an accurate gauge of the depth of the opposition there will be to using dedicated open space,” she said.

That’s not to say conversion of open space hasn’t happened before. Aspen voters approved the construction of the Marolt seasonal housing complex on open space and have endorsed rerouting Highway 82 and a light-rail line across the Marolt parcel.

And the Maroon Creek Club holds a long-term lease on open space for its golf course, granted with voter approval.

Still, Moore said he suspects there is strong support for retaining the Moore Open Space, valued as wildlife habitat and for its plant life, as well as for its scenic attributes.

“Most everybody I’ve seen on the street, everyone I’ve talked to, supports the open space,” he said.

So does the county Open Space and Trails Board, which was cool to Vidal’s proposal in a discussion last week. Board members voiced fears that such conversions undermine public confidence in open space programs. Landowners might be hesitant to preserve their property if they feel the open space designation is a temporary label, board members noted.

Moore, too, fears such conversions have a chilling effect on open space programs.

“I hate to see it become a trend, because if it does, all these ranchers in the valley won’t be interested in doing anything with open space,” he predicted.


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