Push for open-space district moving forward | AspenTimes.com

Push for open-space district moving forward

Heather McGregor

The Open Space 2000 campaign committee submitted its first formal documents on forming a special district to Garfield and Eagle counties Tuesday.

“We are doing everything we can to be on the November ballot,” said campaign spokesman Pat Fitzgerald, a Glenwood Springs real estate broker and former chairman of the Garfield County and Glenwood Springs planning commissions.

The proposed Roaring Fork Open Space, Parks and Recreation District would run from West Glenwood to Basalt, and would levy 2.5 mils of property tax to fund open- space, parkland, trail-corridor and conservation-easement purchases.

For business property valued at $500,000, the tax would be $362 a year; for a home valued at $300,000, the tax would be $73 a year.

“We think we’ll raise about $1 million a year, and we’ll also be asking for the right to bond for up to $10 million,” Fitzgerald said.

“With $10 million, all of a sudden you can buy significant property. With just $1 million a year, we’d probably only buy every second or third year,” he said.

Leaders in the campaign also believe the $10 million can be leveraged to win state and private grants to boost purchases.

Land would be purchased for casual recreation like hiking, fishing, picnicking and kite flying, and conservation easements could be purchased to protect views and wildlife habitat.

The special district proposal first goes to each county’s planning commission for an analysis and recommendation, and then to each county’s board of commissioners.

Campaign leaders met informally last week with both the Garfield and Eagle County commissioners, and Fitzgerald said the sessions were positive and yielded helpful advice.

If the county commissioners approve the detailed special district plan, then they will forward it to district court. Then a judge reviews its legal angles, and if it passes muster, orders it placed on the ballot.

Voters will actually decide on a series of questions, including whether to form a new special district, whether to increase property taxes to fund it, whether to allow the district to use tax revenues to sell $10 million in bonds, and whether to exempt the district from the contribution and spending limits of Amendment 1.

In addition, voters will decide on a slate of candidates to serve on the Open Space Council, a five- or seven-member volunteer governing board that will make purchase and management decisions.

Fitzgerald said the campaign committee expects to present a slate of candidates, but there may also be a race for the seats.

“I want to see a balance that includes property owners and members from Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt,” said Fitzgerald, who noted that he will not be a candidate.

He’s pleased that the campaign committee already reflects such diversity. It includes environmentalists, ecologists, ranchers and realtors, and Fitzgerald is sharing the spokesman’s role with Bill Gray, a real estate appraiser and former Carbondale mayor.

The proposed new district will specifically be banned from condemnation.

Fitzgerald envisions that the Open Space Council would open its doors for a couple of months a year to hear offers from landowners. The council would also be responsible for managing its portfolio, though administrative expenses would be limited to 15 percent of the budget.

While the special district proposal moves through the political and legal channels, the Open Space 2000 steering committee’s next task is to form a political action committee to raise and spend money for the campaign.

“We’ve already had offers from Glenwood Meadows and Chenoa to help fund the campaign,” Fitzgerald said.

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