Peak & Prairie
December 1999 / January 2000
Open Space Issues Big Win Again in Colorado Polls
By Bill Myers, At-Large Chapter Delegate Committee Member, Sierra Club National Campaign to Challenge Sprawl
The latest land-developer has won another City Council seat, again. You tried to inform and involve your neighbors in voting against the bum, to no avail. The local builders have just crushed a citizens’ request to limit growth in your community. All your efforts have gone down in flames, again!
Take heart, Sierrans. Tax increases, tax extensions and bonds for open spaces continue to be big winners at the polls in this November 1999 election.
One town, Nederland, approved new open space sales tax proposals on the first try before voters. One city, Lafayette, approved a new open space sales tax. The always tax-averse county of Adams approved a .2 percent sales tax for a seven-year open space purchase program. Ski-resort centered Summit County approved a $30 million property tax increase to purchase critical wetlands and other open spaces over the next 10 years.
Blue River Group Chair Kevin Knapmiller said, “approval of the bond issue in Summit County is a tremendous step forward toward permanently protecting the county’s remaining open spaces. The ski areas have swallowed up so much land already, this is about the only way that we’ll be able to preserve land for the next generation.”
Sierra Club’s Enos Mills Group provided a late postcard campaign to its members in the Adams County effort.
The City of Brighton passed a ballot measure that re-allocated an existing recreational tax to provide moneys to purchase of additional parks, open spaces and supply money for maintenance.
Two counties with existing open space programs, Boulder and Larimer, took significant steps forward at the ballot box. Even though Boulder County has more than 50,000 acres of open space already, voters resoundingly approved bonds to accelerate open space purchases faced with development pressures. Poudre Canyon Sierrans took to the streets to place the extension of the existing 1/4 cent open space tax and to give Larimer County bonding authority on the ballot. Their active support led to another victory at the polls.
Seven for Eight
Although none of the open space ballot measures faced significant opposition, the big surprise is the consistent support that Colorado voters gave for open space proposals. While Adams County voters were turning down property taxes for schools in this same election, they still approved spending money to preserve farmland, river and wildlife corridors and related areas as open space in their communities.
The support for these proposals was very solid. All eight measures passed. The Yes-vote percentages were: Larimer County 60 percent, Adams County 60 percent, City of Lafayette 61 percent, County of Summit 65 percent, City of Brighton 66 percent, County of Boulder 69 percent and Town of Nederland 71 percent.
Only the small town of Erie’s 1/4 cent sales tax increase failed. Voters in the Boulder County section of Erie approved it overwhelmingly at 61 percent, but the voters in the Weld County portion of Erie voted against it at 61 percent, resulting in a three-vote loss: 315 no to 312 yes.
Arapahoe and Denver Counties - The Only Metro Outposts Without Open Space Programs
With the passage of the Adams County measure, it joins Boulder, Jefferson, Larimer, and Douglas counties with open space programs. Even Colorado Springs has an open space program. Only Arapahoe County and Denver do not have dedicated open space programs. While Arapahoe County is faced with burgeoning, sprawling subdivision developments and the swallowing up of its suburban ring of open spaces, Denver’s natural land areas are faced with runaway ‘infill’ development.
Denver’s population has grown by 40,000 residents since 1990. Excepting the notable strip park development along the South Platte, the newer, exploding neighborhoods lack the open spaces that make urban living enjoyable. Denver’s unique collection of 13,000 acres of Mountain Parks continue to be under-funded and under-appreciated. Perhaps this is the time to renew our commitment to open space programs throughout the Front Range.
People interested in this type of political action are encouraged to contact their local Sierra Club group or this author.
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