Proposed sale of open space has turned some JeffCo residents livid

A hawk sits on the fence separating a Shadow Ridge backyard from open space that is now for sale. (Photo: Ed Duerr)

Ed Duerr is not happy. In 1996 he paid a $9000 lot premium so that the home he was having built would back to open space. He routinely sits on his back deck watching the wildlife. Now, the Foothills Parks and Recreation District, which owns the land, has put it up for sale.

Ed Duerr is not happy. He points to the open space designation on the Jefferson County master plan for the area and he quotes from the planning document for the area, which he says makes it clear that the land behind his house, near Simms and Ward in the Shadow Ridge subdivision, is meant to be maintained as open space.

Duerr said it is his understanding that one of the things the district wants the money for is to remodel or expand a golf course clubhouse.

Ron Hopp, executive director of the district, told The Colorado Independent that the district has about $45 million in capitol needs over the next ten years and that the golf course improvements are just one of those items.

“The district is in the financial position where it needs to look at creative means to raise money for capitol needs. We have aging playgrounds. We have HVAC systems that are going to need to be replaced,” he said.

He said the land for sale will never be developed as a park and is considered “excess inventory” by the district. The fact that it has development potential makes it an asset which can be sold, he said.

The District Board met Tuesday evening and even though the matter was not on the agenda, more than 50 area residents turned out for the meeting and were allowed to speak. The board did not discuss the matter in open meeting but an executive session was scheduled for the end of the meeting.

The fact that homeowners paid premiums to be on open space, Hopp told The Colorado Independent, is something they should take up with the developer.

Hopp acknowledged that a resolution passed by the District Board in 1999 calls the land open space that should not be developed, but says that was passed by a board that could not have anticipated the financial needs faced by the district today.

Duerr’s not buying it. He said he has spoken with the Jefferson County Assessor’s office and was told he has paid higher taxes for 15 years because the county map shows his property as backing to open space.

He says he has spoken with attorneys and land use consultants who have told him they don’t know of a case in Colorado of a developer donating land to a public entity for open space only to have that land later sold for development.

“If this goes through, why would a developer ever donate land for open space ever again in Colorado?” he asks.

The Sierra Club agrees, and Rocky Mountain Chapter conservation chair Kirk Cunningham has sent a letter to Hopp and the District Board:

Dear Mr. Hopp and Board Members:

It is our understanding that the Foothills Park and Recreation District plans to sell off a portion of the park’s open space situated north of Ward Road and west of Simms Avenue as well as other park parcels. The Sierra Club took an interest in this particular area of land during the Ridge at West Meadows Campus master planning process, as it represented native prairie land supporting a colony of prairie dogs as well as resident and migrating raptors. It was our understanding it was deeded to the Park for the purpose of remaining open space and park land. We supported the local homeowners in their quest in 1999 to set aside this parcel of land as an interpretive trail corridor and as a prairie wildlife habitat.

We are concerned that you have decided, without any public involvement, to sell open space land that has been identified in your site approval plan and in the JeffCo South Plains Master Plan Update as open space and preserved land. We cannot support this activity, and we are unaware of any tax exempt park district attempting to sell off lands supported by tax revenues to raise revenue for other park activities. This would set an unacceptable precedent for public open space lands in Jefferson County and all of Colorado.

We will support efforts to thwart this land sale and support the local community in their quest to preserve the open space as originally intended.

Kirk Cunningham

The Prairie Dog Coalition of the Humane Society of the United States has also written a letter to the District, opposing the sale of the land.

Thea Rock, manager of public information for Jefferson County Open Space, said that because the property was not purchased with open space funds and is not owned or managed by JeffCo Open Space, “we don’t have a huge interest in this land.”

Jefferson County Commissioner Donald Rosier, who represents this area of the county, could not be quickly reached for comment. JeffCo Planning Director John Wolforth also did not quickly return a call.

From The Columbine Courier:

Commercial development of the land will decimate property values and ruin an otherwise scenic view from backyards, some residents contend. In addition, development would destroy a small ecosystem that is home to a prairie dog colony and is frequented by numerous birds of prey, they said.

The proposed land sale is among five plots totaling more than 30 acres that Foothills is planning to sell to generate revenue and reap a projected $4.5 million for capital-improvement projects and other expenses.

“We’re very upset. And we feel we’re being undercut in an extra way, because we paid a lot of money to live on open space,” said resident Ed Duerr, explaining that original purchasers of the homes that have backyards bordering the land paid an additional $9,000 in lot fees to the builder. “We feel like it’s going to have absolutely horrendous impacts on our house values.”

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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