Summit County Council expected to continue open space bond rules discussion

Vote delayed amid concerns from land conservancy groups

Summit County Courthouse.
Park Record file photo

The Summit County Council on Wednesday is expected to continue discussing new rules for how open space can be acquired with a $50 million bond voters approved last fall.

Elected officials on Aug. 24 did not vote on a resolution that created new guidelines for the Open Space Advisory Committee, which was formed earlier this year, must follow when using general obligation open space bond monies to purchase or preserve properties. The additional criteria included prohibiting the county from using bond monies as loans, requiring it to work directly with the seller and also mandating that the seller must have owned the property for two years.

Dave Thomas, the county’s chief civil deputy attorney, said he had discussions with the County Council that led to the five new criteria outlining the Open Space Advisory Committee’s role, including mandating all properties to go through the regional advisory committee vetting process and requiring those involved to keep confidentiality until a public meeting is warranted. The rules can be waived at any time if at least three council members are in favor.

However, the County Council delayed the decision last week amid concerns from land conservancy groups that this process will create more obstacles rather than a “safety valve.”

While representatives from the groups argued against the two-year ownership rule, County Council Chair Chris Robinson said the criteria would prevent people from “gaming the system.” He said new buyers could be relying on the open space bond, driving land prices up and then “flipping” the property. 

Land conservations disagreed. They said this resolution could change how groups bring properties to the county for consideration and may limit flexibility.

“I understand that you don’t want to participate in people gaming the system who are making a killing off community open space money. But I also question because we don’t apply the same standard to those who are openly working to make money by acquiring property,” Cheryl Fox, the executive director of the Summit Land Conservancy, said during the meeting. 

“People can come before the planning commission for approvals while just having options on property, not even having purchased. We don’t require them to hold land for two years before they start making money off of it or trying to. I understand that we want to protect the public interest, but on the other hand … by requiring things like this … it seems to disincentivize conservation.”

Robinson indicated the County Council would be willing to amend the criteria if there is enough support from the panel. 

Wednesday’s council agenda includes a copy of the latest resolution, which amended the previous ownership requirements. The latest version states a seller who has owned the proposed property for less than two years must fully disclose all terms and conditions of prior sales to the county before it can be acquired.

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