County looks to update PDR

Purchase of Development Rights program has preserved 5,024 acres

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Since voters agreed to a 1-mill levy to preserve open space and agricultural lands in 1996, Routt County has put 5,042 acres into conservation easements through its Purchase of Development Rights Program.

Routt County commissioners are considering minor changes to the criteria for preserving lands, and the possiblity of accepting applications for the program once a year instead of twice a year.

Before making such decisions, the county will sponsor several public meetings in May in Hayden, North Routt, Steamboat Springs and possibly in Yampa and Oak Creek.

The goal of those meetings is to present how the program has been successful and to get feedback from residents, said Jennifer Duncan, executive secretary for the program. Fostering public discussion about the program is important because the PDR mill levy sunsets in 2007, she said, and will be brought back for a public vote.

Changes to the criteria, which were proposed by the seven-member resident advisory board, are mostly minor edits and language changes, Duncan said.

Most important, the board will consider how much of a ranch or piece of land its owners want to put under a conservation easement when prioritizing applications, Duncan said.

When the criteria were first written, the assumption was that most people would want to preserve their entire ranch. What the county is seeing, she said, is that many owners want to preserve just a part.

Another important change is to consider applications once a year instead of twice a year, which will make it easier to compare projects, said Allan White, PDR board chairman.

Routt County commissioners decided Tuesday to have only one submission period this year, a change that could become permanent after the spring public meetings.

The Purchase of Development Rights program collects about $600,000 each year to use to preserve land. By buying development rights from a property owner, the owner continues to own the land but the county becomes the only entity that can ever develop it.

The program's first project was Jim and Jo Stanko's ranch just outside of town, Duncan said. The biggest project is the 1,500-acre Warren ranch on the Elk River. Another significant project was 23 acres next to Howelsen Hill bought from the Combs family by the city of Steamboat Springs.

There are seven projects in the works that, when complete, will preserve another 4,400 acres, Duncan said.

Overall, the program has been successful, White said.

"It's helped a lot of ranches be preserved into the future, and it's keeping the look and feel of the valley the way we all love," White said.

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