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Money would retire open space

by Christy Chalmers, staff writer

Let the selling start.

Backers of a November ballot question to increase Douglas County’s sales tax found out Thursday exactly what they’ll be promoting: Use of public money to retire development rights and stop growth.

The county commission decided on a 3-2 vote retirement is the simplest option for handling development rights purchased with the quarter-cent sales tax hike if it passes.

“I think resoundingly, the public wants them retired,” said commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen.

“You have to keep it as simple as possible,” said commissioner Bernie Curtis. “If we buy it, we should retire it.”

The issue was the last major question in an open space management plan that outlines policies and goals for maintaining Douglas County’s undeveloped land, as well as uses for the proposed tax hike.

If passed, proceeds from the increase could be used to buy development rights from landowners, effectively paying them to keep their property undeveloped. The increase would bring Douglas County’s sales tax rate to 7 percent and generate an estimated $1 million a year.

Earlier versions of the open space plan said the rights could be banked and possibly sold for use elsewhere or left with the landowners, who might be able to sell them.

The county planning commission recommended earlier this month that any rights bought with public money be retired to eliminate confusion about what the purchases would accomplish.

Commissioners Kelly Kite and Don Miner voted against limiting the publicly-obtained development rights to retirement. Kite said retiring the rights would defeat the purpose of the county’s development right transfer policy, in which rights could be moved from undesirable areas like flood plains and exercised in preferred “receiving” areas.

“If you’re going to require transfers of development rights, you’ve got to have some, and right now we don’t,” he said.

Miner called retirement “overreaching” and said it would limit the rights of property owners.

The open space management plan has been in development since April. A final review and possible adoption is scheduled Sept. 7.