Open space preservationists try their luck with Eagle County voters | AspenTimes.com

Open space preservationists try their luck with Eagle County voters

Although downvalley voters have a history of sending mixed messages about open space programs, a citizens’ group in Eagle County believes the time is ripe there for preservation.

Citizens for Open Space was able to place a question on the Nov. 5 ballot that proposes a property tax to fund land purchases. If approved, homeowners would pay an additional 1.5 mill levy which would amount to about $14 per $100,000 of assessed home value.

Predicting the outcome of the election would give a Las Vegas bookie fits.

Voters in the Roaring Fork Valley portions of Eagle and Garfield counties approved creation of an open space district in November 2000, but they narrowly defeated funding the district through a property tax.

A property tax proposal for the downvalley open space district failed for a second time the following November.

However, Basalt voters proved in that same November 2001 election that a property tax hike to preserve open space isn’t universally despised in the midvalley. The town’s open space program was approved by 71 percent of the voters.

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In this election, the proposed open space district would cover all of Eagle County, including the Roaring Fork Valley portion. Proponents will have to convince Basalt voters that the program is worth supporting even though they approved the town’s own program one year ago.

Diana Cecala, coordinator for the citizens’ group, said the program would benefit all Eagle County residents. The county is a special place because of its beauty, she said. If some of the remaining land that is in private hands isn’t preserved, “we will have squandered something special,” she said.

Organizers of the ballot question considered guaranteeing that money raised from the Roaring Fork Valley portion of the county would be spent in that area. They decided against earmarking specific funds.

“The Roaring Fork Valley actually would benefit more from being able to tap into the entire county fund, according to local Basalt spokespersons, because the Valley would be able to finance the purchase of parcels that cost much more than the local revenues would generate,” the group’s campaign literature said.

But if the district is created, what guarantee is there that the Roaring Fork Valley would receive any funds? It’s a question of trust, said Cecala. Basalt would have a representative on the open space board, as would all towns in Eagle County. A representative would also be appointed from unincorporated Eagle County.

Cecala said it is vital to get something approved now because “the face of the valley is changing so rapidly.” She said a “hideous development” occurring in Avon is proving to be the “strongest thing going for our campaign” in the Eagle Valley portion of the county. Developers are building a Super Wal-Mart and a Home Depot in Avon.

Open space proponents tried to get a proposal on the ballot last year but they couldn’t get organized in time.

The proponents’ own survey indicated 60 percent of respondents supported formation of the district. However, partisan surveys can be misleading. Proponents of the Eagle-Garfield open space district in the Roaring Fork Valley also conducted a survey that showed support only to be rejected in the election.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]

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