Routt County commissioners finalized on Tuesday a revision of the criteria and guidelines used in the county's Purchase of Development Rights program.
The update comes after what Allan White, chairman for the program's Citizens' Advisory Board, called a "long, well-thought-out process."
The final changes in guidelines, which were relatively minor, were developed through a series of public meetings this summer. Through the meetings, the advisory board not only heard reactions to the current guidelines but also gauged how well the program has been received by the public, White said. That is especially important because the 1-mill levy that county voters established in 1996 to fund the program will sunset in 2006 unless it is renewed.
"This was a chance to stand back and say, 'what did we learn? What can we do better?'" White said.
The county's mill levy has provided funds to land conservation organizations, which hold selected land in conservation easements. Through the purchase of development rights, a landowner continues to own the land but the conservation organization extinguishes all or some of the development rights, according to the terms of the easement.
No major problems with the program were brought up during public meetings or in the board's reviews of the program guidelines, White said.
Routt County commissioners applauded the advisory group for its work on updating the guidelines before approving the changes.
One important change to the updated criteria is that applications will be considered once a year instead of twice a year, which will make it easier for interested entities to apply, said Claire Sollars, who has been a member of the Citizens' Advisory Group since the program began.
Another change is that the advisory group will consider the specific piece of land that owners want to put under a conservation easement when prioritizing lands to fund, instead of just looking at the whole ranch.
The updated criteria also are easier to use, Sollars said.
The Purchase of Development Rights mill levy collected about $689,000 this year.
If all projects that have been approved are successfully finished, the program will have preserved close to 8,000 acres of land, White said.
"I think it's had a real impact on preserving agricultural lands and has raised the visibility of the need for preservation," he said.
In related business, the Citizens' Advisory Group is looking for a seventh board member to replace one who recently left. The open spot must be filled by someone from County Commissioner District 3, which includes Steamboat Springs. Anyone interested should call Jennifer Duncan at 879-0825.