open space subcommittee out of business |

open space subcommittee out of business

by Christy Chalmers

After two meetings and barely a month of existence, a special subcommittee charged with overseeing open space issues was dissolved Tuesday.

The Douglas County Planning Commission, which established the subcommittee in September, dismantled it after deciding the group did its job.

“The subcommittee accomplished their goal,” said planning commissioner Bob Gaw. “They had their meetings, and I think we’re on the road, and that’s the main thing.”

Planning Commission chairman Mike Hayes lead the effort to dissolve the new group, citing concerns about the costs of providing a secretary to record minutes and handle other administrative tasks.

“It’s just not necessary,” he said before the Planning Commission’s meeting. “The staff and budget’s not there to run two subgroups that are basically after the same goal.”

Instead, he said the Planning Commission should handle the open space process. Hayes said many of the ideals and goals of open space preservation are already outlined in the 1996 master plan, and county efforts can complement a private coalition that has been rallying support for open space.

But Hayes’ effort surprised fellow board member Jay Lather, one of the four commissioners who voted to establish the subcommittee. Hayes missed the meeting at which the group was established, but had been chosen to serve on it along with Lather and Ame Hellman.

“You’re really misunderstanding what this was all about,” said Lather. “The subcommittee was only to facilitate the meetings, not to take any actions. All I really wanted to do was to facilitate and not impede.”

Hayes and Gaw countered with opinions that the subcommittee did accomplish its mission.

“Bob is right,” said planning commissioner Rick Gardner. “We’re not dissolving it due to staff and funding limits. We’re dissolving it because…”

“We’ve accomplished things,” Gaw concluded.

Hayes outlined a schedule of meetings and considerations he thinks need to be addressed. He envisions a series of public forums throughout the county during which the private group would make its presentation on the virtues of open space and the county officials could measure community opinion and gather ideas.

Hayes also listed possible revenue sources for buying and preserving open space, including a quarter-cent sales tax increase, a real estate transfer tax and proceeds from federal land sales.

Hayes said the planning board should contact major agricultural land owners soon to find out if they’re interested in a preservation effort. As proposed, land owners could be paid for their development rights, based on the estimated market value of their land if it was developed, in exchange for a promise to keep the land open or in agricultural production.

The planning commissioners seemed to agree that land owners need to be contacted early, because if they’re not interested in keeping their property undeveloped, “we’re basically spinning our wheels,” said Hayes.

Tuesday’s action came two months after a pair of county commissioners bluntly told the planning commission to take charge of open space preservation efforts. The planning board, which advises the county commission, hasn’t had a major issue to oversee since the 1996 master plan was completed.