BEHIND THE HEADLINES

How to save a gem of a mountain?

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Q. Why is Emerald Mountain in danger? What are you doing to try to save it from development?

A. For the past eight years, the community has been working to preserve the 6,345-acre Emerald Mountain State Land Board Parcel. Last year, Routt County and the city of Steamboat Springs formalized this effort by appointing four board members to create the Emerald Mountain Partnership. (Three additional members have since been appointed to the Partnership.) The partnership's mission is to work to protect the Emerald Mountain State Land Board Parcel. Throughout this year, the partnership will be exploring potential options for the future of the parcel. The threat to the property is that its owner, the Colorado State Land Board (SLB), wants to sell the parcel to generate more revenue for its beneficiaries primarily Colorado's public education system. The sale of this property on the open market could result in the development of 181 35-acre lots. The Emerald Mountain Parcel is located southwest of Howelsen Hill on the top and the backside of what is commonly referred to by the community as Emerald Mountain. Although very little of the property is visible from the city of Steamboat Springs, the parcel is important as a "reserve" for wildlife and upland grazing complementing the existing conservation transactions on the front side of Emerald Mountain.

Late last year after almost a year of discussions the partnership and the SLB signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). This MOA gives the community through the Partnership until March 15, 2005, an option to purchase the Emerald Mountain Parcel.

Q. If the partnership is unsuccessful in its attempt to purchase the land from the State Land Board, how likely is it that the land will be developed?

A. As I previously stated, the SLB has a fiduciary responsibility to create revenue for their beneficiaries. The Emerald Mountain Parcel is the largest SLB parcel located adjacent to a major resort community and therefore is one of the most valuable undeveloped assets in their real estate portfolio. The property is not currently generating an appropriate amount of revenue in consideration of its value. The SLB has said that if the community cannot purchase the parcel that they would sell the parcel to the highest bidder. Considering the value of real estate around Steamboat Springs, there will be no lack of developers interested in building high-end residences as has been done on comparable large properties.

Q. Is it possible that, if purchased by a private developer, a large portion of the land could remain undeveloped through a Land Preservation Subdivision (LPS)?

A. The development of an LPS was one of the options proposed to the SLB by a land developer for Emerald Mountain before the Partnership obtained its "option to purchase." Even under an LPS development scenario, which may leave portions of land undeveloped, there would be no guarantee that the community would have any input to the management of or access to the land. The community would lose significant resources, i.e. wildlife and wildlife habitat, grazing lands for the adjacent ranches and recreational opportunities. The value of a natural community "reserve" close to the urban center of Steamboat Springs would be lost for future generations.

Q. What is the purchase price of the Emerald Mountain property? Does your group have the option of purchasing only a portion of it, or is it all or none?

A. The appraised value of $17,200,000 was established by a land appraisal contracted for (1998) and accepted by the SLB in 1999. The partnership has an "option to purchase" through the previously mentioned MOA until March 15, 2005. However, to fulfill the obligations of the MOA, the partnership must purchase a "Phase 1" portion of the Emerald Mountain Parcel (for which the exact size and location has yet to be determined) by March 15, 2004. It is the intent of the partnership, through its Strategic Plan (as adopted in January 2001) to consider the purchase of the entire parcel if supported by the community both financially and philosophically. This Strategic Plan set a goal of 100 percent conservation for the entire parcel. The partnership will review this goal in June and may need to reconsider its options if the community is not fully behind this acquisition.

Q. Are there alternatives besides raising property taxes? Why a property tax and not a sales-tax increase? How much would the owner of a home valued at $200,000 pay per year?

A. The Partnership is exploring multiple alternatives for 100 percent conservation of the Emerald Parcel. One of the alternatives being explored is to ask the voters in November if they are willing to increase their taxes for the preservation of Emerald Mountain. This May, the partnership will be mailing out a survey to a randomly selected cross-section of voters in the Steamboat Springs area.

The survey will ask what alternatives the respondent would like the partnership to pursue and what, if any, would the respondent be willing to pay in a tax increase for the preservation of Emerald Mountain.

The partnership is researching what alternatives should be included in the survey. One of the alternatives being researched is the idea of a property-tax increase.

In discussing what alternatives might be most appropriate the partnership is looking at property taxes as probably a better alternative than a sales-tax increase due to the history of ballot issues and land preservation in Routt County and the Steamboat Springs area. Since the research has not been completed and there has not been a response from the community the amount of increase in property taxes that might be requested in a ballot issue is unknown at this time.

The partnership will be undertaking additional surveys throughout the year and other questions related to tax increases could be asked at that time.

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