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Summit County Council nears next step in open space bond implementation

A vote to create the open space advisory committee could happen later in May

The Summit County Courthouse.
Park Record file photo

The Summit County Council on Wednesday didn’t achieve its goal of passing an ordinance that would create an open space advisory committee to help determine how $50 million in bond proceeds are distributed but is now poised to adopt the ordinance at the next meeting in May.

Elected officials spent about an hour reviewing the ordinance with painstaking care to ensure its language aligned with the general obligation bond to preserve open space that voters passed last November. The discussion was a continuation of the County Council’s efforts to advance in the process that helps give the community a voice in how bond proceeds are spent.

On Wednesday, county councilors seemingly agreed on how the advisory committee, which is being created to help identify land in the county that should be preserved and acquired for open space, agricultural protection areas or conservation easements, should function.



Rather than utilize three subcommittees as initially proposed, the County Council favored creating regional advisory groups based on Summit County’s geographic areas. The new model closely resembles the original by including seven members apiece to represent the West Side as well as North Summit and South Summit but provides more direction about how the regional committees will operate.

County Councilor Malena Stevens said the groups would act as “think tanks” for the best use of land in targeted areas. The regional advisory groups will each develop a set of evaluation standards for preserving open space, which would then be approved by the open space advisory committee.



The larger committee has nine members, made up of three representatives from each regional advisory group, that provide recommendations to County Manager Tom Fisher and the County Council on how the bond money should be used based on the established standards.

The County Council also changed the time frame that the regional groups must develop their criteria in from 30 days to 90 days. County Councilor Roger Armstrong said the longer period would give the panels more time to consider what values and properties should be considered. If the deadline is reached before it’s finalized, the task can be passed onto the open space advisory committee.

“We won’t burn through $50 million in 90 days,” he said.

Elected officials opted to modify language that loosened certain requirements on who can become a member of each regional advisory group. The County Council changed it to say there will be four at-large members, with a preference for one being an agricultural or natural resources professional. Candidates are not required to have specific credentials but should work in fields tied to biology, ecology, geology, fish and wildlife or noxious weeds.

The original ordinance held there would be three at-large members and one professional, but elected officials feared it was too restrictive and could lead to a shortage of candidates. County staffers said this representation is most crucial on the East Side, where there are more agricultural properties.

Stevens said the small groups are only intended to exist for a short time, about a year, before they would be dissolved and the larger committee takes over.

Under the current proposal, landowners who are interested in negotiating a deal with the county for preservation or open space must file a notice of interest with the executive committee. Then the executive committee will hear a presentation from the landowner, or a land trust that worked with a property owner, regarding the acreage. This could also include a site visit to review the land.

The County Council debated the confidentiality of the process during a previous meeting. The ordinance states all recommendations shall be made in a public meeting, however, matters of property acquisition can be discussed in a closed session prior to a vote on the transaction.

Although County Councilor Chris Robinson was eager to pass the ordinance Wednesday so Fisher could start reviewing possible applications from people who want to serve on the committees, but Armstrong said there was still too much uncertainty with the ordinance and the language still needed to be finalized.

“Here I thought I reviewed this,” Robinson joked.

The concept has improved since the initial March 30 meeting, Stevens said, and she insisted their effort would be helpful in the future when the regional groups and advisory committee start meeting.

Robinson said they planned to review the changes and vote on the measure at the next County Council meeting, which is slated for Wednesday, May 11. Armstrong and Stevens also intend to host a virtual County Council Q-and-A with updates about the county-wide open space bond from 6 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday via Zoom.


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