Posted by: Howell | July 16, 2010

Durango to close on FLC Board of Trustees properties in September

City to close on FLC Board of Trustees properties in September

Other open-space acquisitions are a long-term waiting game

In the City’s ongoing quest towards preserving open space in Horse Gulch, it will be closing on three Fort Lewis College Board of Trustees properties totaling 366 acres in September, a Durango official said at a meeting Monday.

At a Natural Lands Preservation and Advisory Board Meeting, Durango’s Parks, Open Space and Trails Development Manager Kevin Hall announced the purchase while referencing a map, explaining how the board is focusing on open space purchases where property owners are ready to help the city meet their goals.

Open space acquisition is a chess game

The City plans to close on the FLC Board of Trustees properties outlined in yellow in September.

For certain Horse Gulch landowners the time for bargaining is on hold, and for the City it’s become a figurative chess game of waiting for those who own property on the south side of the gulch: Oakridge Energy. As owners of a large portion of the meadow extending south from the Meadow Loop, Oakridge Energy holds in their hands the outcome of this game of land preservation. The 35-acre parcel in the meadow is currently slated to be sold for development as part of a 1,900 acre tract of 35-acre parcels extending across Ewing Mesa and up onto the higher-reaching ridgelines of the Fruitland Outcrop.

Yet Oakridge Energy isn’t ready to sell or trade off any of its assets in piece to the city.

“So one of the approaches we’ve taken is to just bide our time,” Hall said. “And when the development proposals come forward, then you work with everyone closely.”

This blogger attended the meeting with the Board, hailing their open space acquisition accomplishments, while advocating for a strategic approach towards acquiring Oakridge Energy’s parcel that the Telegraph Trail and Anasazi Descent crossover below Telegraph Pass.

Board member Ed Zink confirmed my message at the meeting.

“You’re glad of what happened, you just want more of it?” Zink asked, bringing laughter from the Board.

Purchasing property outright as open space, however, isn’t always the best option for preserving lands that the public values, said Hall.

“The city might buy property, there might be a dedication, they may transfer the density up on to the mesa top. So there’s a range of things that happen,” Hall said. “But what you need to have is a willing property owner. And the time has to be right. And I would say that the time isn’t quite right down here, so we’ve been focusing on these other areas as they are. I think in general, that’s how Horse Gulch has been coming together the last year and a half.”

The Nataral Lands Preservation Advisory Board has been consistently supportive of preserving some or portions of the meadow extending south from the meadow loop, Hall said. The Council supports that in their plan as well, he said.

Oakridge Energy’s parcel in the meadow is one of their 54 interconnecting 35-acre parcels that they’ll want to have city infrastructure extended to in order to increase the marketability of their property altogether in the future, said Board Member Mark Smith.

“If the developer wants to develop his property in any significant way at some point in time, they will want the city to annex them so they will get city sewer and water and city services,” Smith said. “The city will say to them, after boards like this and people like yourself have input, they’ll say, well, we’ll consider annexing it, but we’d like you to, as part of the deal, give us so much of this property to use as open space. And then we’ll consider annexation. And so you want to save it for that kind of card game that will happen at some point in the future.”

“Other people that the city has bought land from are in a stressed financial situation right now and they want to unload the property. They need the cash; the city has the cash coming from the two-way funds. So it works out,” Smith said. “But if you just go to somebody who’s in a pretty comfortable situation, and say we want to buy this, then the price is usually too much. But if you wait, you’ll find that they need something from you, and that’s the time you make the deal.”

Paul Wilbert, the Board’s Chairman, agreed, saying that several examples in Durango demonstrate the value of waiting for the annexation process to begin before bargaining with property owners who they want to see dedicating property towards open space.

“A couple of good examples I was thinking about, for one, was a few years ago, when Wal Mart wanted to annex, and the city got 15 acres on the river as part of the deal for free. Twin Buttes—same deal—480 acres for free. Sky Ridge—same deal—two or three years ago, this used to be all one property, or just a couple of different properties and it was chopped up into 35’s. But I think it was that same kind of deal. A big part of their property was dedicated for free as part of the annexation,” Wilbert said. “It’s a waiting game a little bit. And I think a card game is a good way to put it. ”

The Boards’s Vice Chair, Connie Imig, supported Hall’s decision to be patient with Oakridge Energy in order to have more leverage towards preserving the solitude of the open space in Horse Gulch.

“We’ve been extremely interested in this, and Kevin knows that this is one of the gems of our scenario for the future in assuring that that area stays the way it is,” Imig said. “But he is totally correct and I’m guessing the best example of that is Twin Buttes. There was a time when it was not right to try to do something. And then the timing changed on it, and we got that property next to Twin Buttes at an unbelievably good value. So we are pretty firmly convinced that if we just bide our time and let the proper people know that we have interest in this piece, that we’re going to be able to do that.”

In closing, Hall reiterated the importance of remaining flexible with their tactics in preserving open space for Durango in Horse Gulch altogether.

“A friendly reminder and checking in with property owners is kind of the approach we’ve been taking,” Hall said. “And sometimes we create opportunities by making that call and sometimes we just have to continue to wait. It’s a bit of a chess match and it’s sometimes a little stressful, but it seems to have been working for us.”

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