Our View: Take it slow on Emerald land purchase

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Editorial Board, August through December 2010

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Blythe Terrell, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Rich Lowe, community representative
  • Sue Birch, community representative

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

The Emerald Mountain land up for purchase by the city of Steamboat Springs certainly looks tempting.

The 580-acre parcel owned by Lyman Orton is under a conservation easement, and Orton long generously has allowed public use of it for year-round recreation. In fact, it’s likely that hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers and snowshoers don’t realize they’re on private lands as they enjoy the trails.

But any purchase conversation presents complications, not the least of which is the economy.

Orton’s offer to sell to the city (he said he hasn’t offered the land to anyone else) comes at a difficult fiscal time.

The land is appraised at $2 million.

The city has a $600,000 Great Outdoors Colorado grant that would whittle that out-of-pocket price down. That is complicated, however, by the fact that the grant expires Dec. 13 and GOCo requires 90 days to do its due diligence before releasing money. That means the city would have to submit a purchase contract to GOCo by Monday to snag those funds.

That’s awfully soon, and this is not a time for the city of Steamboat Springs to make hasty decisions.

Ongoing problems with the Iron Horse Inn have called into question the wisdom of that October 2007 purchase.

The city’s need to increase water and wastewater rates because of desperately needed infrastructure upgrades also is raising questions about how the city handles taxpayer money.

Although the current Steamboat Springs City Council didn’t make the Iron Horse decision and is deciding on rate increases that already should have happened gradually, it will be responsible for making the right decision about an Emerald Mountain land purchase.

The city should continue negotiations with Orton strategically, with an eye to creating a win-win situation and minimizing the burden on Steamboat taxpayers.

It’s frustrating that a hefty GOCo grant might slip through the city’s grasp, but perhaps other creative grant opportunities are available.

The city also might consider if this would be a worthwhile use of its reserves.

It’s clear that Orton would like to sell the land now, but it’s unclear what will happen if a sale to the city doesn’t work out.

The conservation easement on the 580 acres removes the threat of development. But a new owner might not prove as generous to the community as Orton has been. That means the public won’t be guaranteed access to the best and most extensive trails on Emerald if it’s privately owned.

This is not a time to rush a decision through that could cost at least $1.4 million in city money.

This is a time to carefully review lessons of the past and use them to make the best decision for the future.

Comments

beentheredonethat 3 years, 7 months ago

the city should spend money on what is NEEDS and not WANTS. the city does not need to purchase this land, end of story.

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John Fielding 3 years, 7 months ago

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While we continue these negotiations let us consider a few more points.

Is the land completely protected from development, and if so how is the appraisal justified?

Approximately how much use is made of the land and what is the value of that? For instance is it at a level of, say 100 users per day? 20? A dollar per use? $5?

Can we raise funds for this from the users instead if the general public by the sale of access licenses for bicycles and passes for skiers?

Can we propose an lease with option to purchase, that option transferable to any entity that will keep the land in the intended use?

Can we purchase a permanent access easement that will remain valid regardless of who owns the land? Let's have an appraiser calculate how much the value would be with such an easement and we'll have a rough idea of what we should offer for it.

Can we wait, will Mr. Orton offer it elsewhere? If he still owns it at the end of his life, will his considerable generosity have continued to grow till he makes it a bequest, a legacy to his memory?

If it is offered elsewhere can we then negotiate with other prospective purchasers to supply their down payment in exchange for our access easement?

and these other questions I posted earlier that went unanswered:

Does the city government have the authority to make this purchase without specific voter approval?

What would be the maintenance cost be, and would it require an increase in the P&R budget?

Would all the land, as well as the rest of HEMP be for young and able bodied users only, or will access for those unable to bike or ski uphill also be considered?

Is the lower Howelsen ski area considered a part of this park?

What percentage of the city budget could be dedicated to the P&R without seriously compromising fire and police, roads and bridges, water and sewer etc? Have we reached that limit?

Could a decision to proceed be called to public vote after the fact like the 700 issue was?

If the city authorities proceed without addressing these and other questions and making the answers well publicized it will be a violation of their trust on a scale similar to the Iron Horse. Let us not be pressured by some grant deadline, it will come around again next year, and the year after. Let's have real community support for the decision we make. .

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