Developers’ concerns spur addition to open space master plan

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By Sandy Barnes

Responding to concerns from developers about property with commercial potential, the Jeffco Open Space Advisory Committee on March 6 approved an addition to its master plan. The addition states that the agency will negotiate only with willing sellers, and will not pursue a property that has an active development proposal with Jeffco Planning and Zoning.

The language of the amendment crafted by the advisory committee differs sharply from the development community’s submission, which asks that properties with “employment-producing” potential be given priority by the county and considered for open space uses only “under extraordinary circumstances.”

During the discussion on changing the plan, advisory committee members took issue with the proposal from the development community.

“That is extremely dangerous language,” said committee member Kevin Burke.

Acquisition of open space properties has been a major driver for development, Burke said. The city of Golden has changed and grown over the years because of surrounding open space, he remarked.

John Wolforth, Jeffco's director of planning and zoning, who represents the county on the advisory committee, explained that his department uses its own comprehensive master plan in making decisions about land use.

“Our elected officials do not make decisions based on the open space master plan,” Wolforth said. “We rely on our Open Space folks to tell us if there’s something of Open Space interest,” he added.

“I think there’s the misconception that people can use the Open Space plan in planning and zoning,” said advisory committee member Jan Wilkins.

Wilkins also said that, in updating the master plan, no single viewpoint was inserted into the document by the advisory committee.

“I was struck by what a wide diversity of opinions we have about open space,” Wilkins said.

Advisory committee member Felicity Hannay pointed out that the wishes of landowners are always taken into consideration.

“I completely agree that we shouldn’t be acquiring property if the landowner doesn’t want (us) to,” she said.

Hannay also suggested that properties that landowners have asked to be removed from consideration be marked accordingly on open space maps.

“I think it’s a good idea to call those out,” said Tom Hoby, director of Jeffco Parks and Open Space.

The open space committee created the addition to the master plan after the county commissioners delayed a vote on the master plan Feb. 11 at the request of several real estate development groups. The commissioners are scheduled to revisit the master plan at their March 18 meeting.

Margot Zallen, chair of the Plan Jeffco group, had asked county commissioners not to delay the vote on the Open Space master plan. In the past 18 months, the public has been given ample opportunity to review and comment on the document, she said.

“I think it’s really disingenuous to complain,” Zallen said at the advisory committee meeting.

Retiring committee members honored

The longtime service of advisory committee members Kevin Burke and Jan Wilkins was recognized during the March 6 meeting.

Burke has served on the committee for the past 16 years, and Wilkins for 15 years. Both are retiring from the committee at month's end when their terms expire.

During Burke’s tenure, 24,000 acres have been added to Jeffco Open Space. And in the years Wilkins has served on the committee, nearly 20,000 acres have been acquired, Hannay noted.

“She is the proverbial Energizer Bunny of Open Space,” Hannay said of Wilkins.

“We’ve been an immensely better committee with you,” said Wayne Forman, chairman of the Open Space Advisory Committee.

“This is an incredible program,” said Burke. “These people are so dedicated, so knowledgeable.”

Wilkins expressed her appreciation for the recognition, and for the opportunity to serve.

Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com.