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Pitkin County To Consider Juniper Hill Land Donation

Nov 20, 2019

This digital illustration made using Google Maps shows the rough location of the donated parcel near Juniper Hill road.
Credit Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

Molly Dove, Morning Edition Host: In its meeting a couple of weeks ago, the Pitkin County Board of Commissioners talked about whether or not to accept a piece of donated land, just upvalley of Woody Creek off of Juniper Hill Road. When they first considered accepting the donated land, there were some questions raised as to whether or not the county should do so. To help break it down, we're joined by reporter Alex Hager. Give us some background on this, where exactly is this land that we're talking about?

Alex Hager, Reporter: Yeah, so it's a pretty small piece of land. It's just 2.3 acres, and it's just upvalley of Woody Creek, like you said, off of Juniper Hill road. And it's within a subdivision. And the county usually wouldn't take land like that. They like taking control of land and keeping it as open space. But if it's small like this and not really contiguous with other land, they're less into it. But, here's the catch. It is rare wetland. And that's not super common to find it at high altitudes like this. So there was an interesting point raised at the meeting. Only 1% of Colorado is riparian area like this. And riparian means in proximity to a river or a wetland. And 80% of wildlife needs access to that kind of area at some point or another in its development cycle. So preserving this kind of land is really important and it has some value to the environment, and the board likes taking control of areas that have value to the environment and making sure they stick around.

MD: So all of those sound like reasons that the county would want to take the land, but you're saying that there's some hesitation. So why is that?

AH: Yeah, that is pretty much exactly the first question I had too. And I talked to county commissioners Greg Poschman and Kelly McNicholas Kury and they gave me some of the background. Basically what they told me is even though the land would be donated at no cost to the county, it would cost them some time and money to possess it, just because it would require some active management once it's in their control. With all of the open space land that the county has, there's generally some written protocol and someone working for the county that makes sure that land stays open, but also sometimes they have to step in and take some action to bring the land up to their standards. And in this case that is exactly what would have to happen. Apparently there are some noxious weeds on the parcel and they'd have to go out there and remove them. That's required by a county rule for open spaces. And it wouldn't really be easy in this case because it's a wetland, they can't just go and spray them like they usually would. So basically they've already got this long list of open space properties that they're already managing and they're just saying it wouldn't be worth it to spend time and resources on this one, especially given that they have a fixed budget.

MD: But if the county doesn't take that land, is there a risk that it won't be protected or preserved by someone else?

AH: Yeah, that's also a great question. And when I asked Kury about it, she said that shouldn't really be a concern. Even if the land stays under private ownership, there's land use code that controls development around wetlands and riparian zones. And the commissioner said that the land use code should be good enough to keep the wetland as it is. And if it's not, they can tune it up to make sure that it is.

MD: It doesn't seem like that big of a decision for the board to make. So why would we be concerned about this really small 2.3 acre piece of land?

AH: Yeah, ultimately it's a pretty nitty-gritty vote for the county. It's not a huge piece of land and it's something that's not going to be seen by a ton of people. But I think the situation provides a really good example of how the county thinks about the open spaces it owns and manages and the land that it could own and manage. And it's a good example of how there can be a lot of nuance to these kinds of decisions. In the past, there have been some cases where the county doesn't really hesitate to take land just because it provides a much clearer value that makes it totally worth their time and resources to manage. So in some cases with a piece of land in an area that's highly visible, in the past, the county has been pretty eager to take control of that and protect it against development. But this case with the parcel near Juniper Hill road, it shows that there are some limits and complexities that the county takes into account when it's making decisions on taking new land.

MD: And what are the next steps the county is going to take to either take this land or not take this land?

AH: Well, they're going to take a second reading on it this afternoon at their meeting and that should end in a vote on whether or not they're accepting that donation. Based on my conversations with the commissioners and how I saw them approach it in the last meeting, I wouldn't expect them all to vote the same way, which is not always the case. So we will wait and see and check back in tomorrow.

MD: Well, thanks for breaking this all down, Alex. We should be able to hear more information about this afternoon and tomorrow.