Schism with city over White Acres easement proposal

       Citizen open-space supporters are in a running skirmish with city legal staff over how much legal protection White Acres Open Space needs.
       Last spring, two city-appointed entities - the Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) Advisory Committee and Parks Advisory Board - voted to accept a proposal by the volunteer Friends of Red Rock Canyon to place a conservation easement on the property. However, after objections from city legal staff, a draft resolution noting these recommendations did not go to City Council in May, nor has it since.
       Don Ellis, a past member of the Friends group, said recently that he and others who support the easement have not given up and intend to continue pursuing the idea.
       An easement would involve no cost to the city, because an anonymous donor has offered to pay the $10,000 cost, Ellis said
       Conservation easements had been required in the purchases of the neighboring Red Rock Canyon and Section 16 open space properties, because they were bought with the help of Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) funds. But such a requirement did not apply to the $1 million White Acres property, which was bought with city TOPS funds, aided by $75,000 fundraised by Friends of Red Rock.
       The city legal position is laid out in redlines to the draft resolution, which had been prepared by City Parks administrators and then-assistant City Manager Nancy Johnson with the idea of seeking City Council-members' approval for it at their May 23 meeting.
       The lawyers' redlines reveal a belief that the scenic, 45-acre parcel off Gold Camp and Lower Gold Camp roads is sufficiently protected because it was bought with TOPS funds, meaning it could not be sold without a citywide vote. Adding a conservation easement would just “encumber” the property, the redlines indicate.
       But in an e-mail, Ellis questioned if TOPS truly is enough protection, should the city some day face a budget crisis and start thinking about selling potentially valuable properties (such as White Acres) to make up the difference. At such a time, it's possible that “future city voters would have no idea what the tract of land is, or why it should not be sold,” Ellis suggested. “So, this might be easy to pass in some future election.
       “With a conservation easement, however, White Acres would always remain open space regardless of who might own it in the future. So, it would hold no interest for a developer.”

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