Our View: Take it slow on Emerald land purchase
September 12, 2010
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.
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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.