Open Space Funding

by Osman Parvez

Boulder is stepping up acquisition of open space land.

This coming Tuesday night (5/2/06), City Council will vote to authorize a $20.1MM bond issue to fund the initiative. Voters previously authorized the city to issue up to $58MM in bonds in a 1997 ballot measure and after the issue of the $20.1MM, the city will have remaining authorization for $4.8MM.

Here's the City Council Agenda Item on the bond issue.

According to the Daily Camera, the funds will be used to purchase land in four areas:
  • A series of parcels in and around the city of Boulder and in Boulder Valley that fill in gaps in existing open-space areas.
  • The "northern tier" between existing city-owned open space along North Foothills Highway up to Nelson Road.
  • Buffer land along the border between Boulder and Jefferson counties.
  • Land the city will purchase along with the county as buffers between Boulder and neighboring Longmont, Niwot and Superior.
The interest rate on the bonds is yet to be determined (available Tuesday night) and the bonds are expected to go on sale around May 16th.

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  1. Hey, here's an idea. Instead of taxing the population $40 million there's this weird little used city power called ZONING. Now, I know you probably never heard of it before but here's how it works; the municipality "zones" land as open space and then it cannot be developed. Cost; $0. At the same time the City can "zone" developable properties at an intensity low enough that external open space mitigation is not necessary to preserve the character of the community.

    Honest. Look it up. I'd be willing to bet Boulder has some dusty old regulations buried somewhere that allow the council to do stuff very much like this "zoning" thingy I'm talkng about. Open Space preservation is just a subsidy to allow developers to overbuild on their properties.

  2. Sounds good, but what about the property rights of the current owners?

    I also don't follow how Open Space preservation creates a subsidy for overbuilding. Could you elaborate?

  3. Property rights are not unfettered. Zoning exists to protect -other- people's property rights as well as yours. I imagine current owners are being paid $20 million to purchase whatever rights they currently have so it sounds like that's covered.

    On the second question; Open Space clearly has public value. Now, ask why? Because people on a very basic level rebel against intense urban development. Thus we externalize the negative impacts of overly urban cities by purchasing parks and open space and such. Without these public subsidies deveopers would be forced to reduce the intensity of their projects and thus make less money. It's obvious that public money is being used to enhace the value of privte development.

  4. Ok, I now see sense in your arguement that the cost of open space can be thought of as an externalized cost of over development.

    But I'm less sure that it's a cost/subsidy that should be allocated to local developers. If you've lived in any overbuilt environment, open space is an attractive proposition. With Boulder's price premium, new buyers pay directly for the benefits of open space and existing residents pay for it in the form of higher taxes.

    Much of Boulder's population has fled overbuilt or otherwise unattractive places to live from all over the country. It's clearly something many find worth paying for.

    And whether the open space comes from a $20MM bond issue or rezoning initiatives, the developers - from your point of view - get a subsidy.

    To the point of property rights; rezoning to create open space (with $0 cost, you say) wouldn't compensate owners. The purchase of their land will, and only then is it "covered." And with a straight purchase, there is greater opportunity to open up the land to public use(trails, multi use paths, etc) than through rezoning, conservation easements, etc.

    Colorado is often referred to as a "property rights state." This comes from the perception (and history) that any initiative seen as limiting the rights of owners will be fought tooth and nail.

    Boulder's efforts to purchase and preserve open space is widely regarded as one of the reasons for its relative affluence. Neighboring areas (Louisville, Lafayette, Broomfield) are emulating the City of Boulder for this very reason.

    Frankly, I'm not an expert on Boulder's Open Space programs but I do see much more support in the community than resistance. So, why tinker with something that seems to be working?

  5. p.s. I'm heading out of town today to enjoy wilderness and open space myself. If you post a comment (which I very much appreciate), depending on when I leave, I may not have a chance to approve it before the end of the week.



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