Paying to preserve
The Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday lamented a missed opportunity when developer Paul Franklin presented his plans to develop Elkins Meadow, a 104-acre parcel off Fish Creek Falls Road that many have described as one of the most scenic in the city.
Franklin pledged that his development would maintain the pristine nature of the meadow, which is owned by Steve Elkins and his family. Still, council members winced at the idea of homes and roads crisscrossing the meadow and second guessed a decision five years ago not to acquire the property and set it aside for preservation.
“We may have really blown it,” said City Councilman Ken Brenner.
Maybe the city did blow it, but it’s too late now. The property is within the city limits and thus allowed to be turned into a subdivision if the property owner so chooses, as the Elkins family clearly has. Any effort by the city to acquire the property for preservation at this point would require paying the Elkins family the development value of the land, a price that surely is financially impractical.
Elkins Meadow is symptomatic of a larger issue how do we as a community balance the need for well-managed land preservation with the associated costs and the rights of property owners to maximize the profitable use of the land? It’s a question the Emerald Mountain Partnership is, at least in part, addressing through a survey sent this week to 1,500 registered voters in Steamboat and the surrounding area.
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The survey asks residents if they would be willing to incur a property tax increase of $6.81 per $100,000 valuation to acquire Emerald Mountain. The 6,400-acre parcel, owned by the State Land Board, carries a $17.2-million price tag. The Land Board, which is charged with using land in a way that maximizes funding for public education, will be in a position to sell the property to anyone with enough money when it comes out of stewardship trust in 2005. The survey also asks voters to look at a broader picture would they be be willing to pay even more in property taxes to establish a fund that could be used to acquire identified parcels for preservation?
The city already has a comprehensive plan that identifies which properties the community would like to see preserved. Now, maybe the Emerald Mountain Partnership survey will be a first step in establishing how much we’re willing to pay to do it.
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