Summit County Council OK’s next step in $50M open space bond roll out

Residents who join the open space advisory committee will help determine how proceeds are used

The Summit County Courthouse.
Park Record file photo

After weeks of discussion, the Summit County Council adopted an ordinance on Wednesday that provides a pathway for how $50 million in bond proceeds are distributed to protect open space.

The creation of the open space advisory committee gives community members the chance to tell elected officials what they value and provides them a voice for choosing the criteria used to select properties. Summit County voters overwhelmingly supported the bond last November, which led county staffers to prioritize residents’ input, and starting next month, they can apply for a seat.

“This has been through a little bit of a painful process – I don’t think it was painful, but some may – I think between Roger [Armstrong] and me and others who have edited, I think it’s a pretty good document. I mean, it’s better than pretty good, it is a good document and I recommend approval,” County Councilor Chris Robinson said.

County Councilor Roger Armstrong asked the other elected officials if they were comfortable with definitions and the scope of the language included in the ordinance before taking a vote. Dave Thomas, the county’s chief civil attorney, said it was modeled after how the general obligation bond was written, which was a previous concern of the County Council.

“Chris, if you and Roger are happy with it, I am more than happy with it – I was happy with it a month ago,” County Councilor Glenn Wright said.

He offered to make a motion, but Robinson said he’d like to hear comments from Doug Clyde and Malena Stevens, both on the County Council, first. Clyde responded his only comment is to second the motion and Stevens joked she would third it.

With the passage of the legislation, the next step is to appoint residents to serve on three regional groups based on Summit County’s geographic areas, who are tasked with helping identify land in the region that should be preserved and acquired for open space, agricultural protection areas or conservation easements.

Information about the recruitment process will be released soon, Summit County Manager Tom Fisher said in an interview. Residents who are interested in applying for a position with their respective regional group will be able to do so until the tentative June 15 deadline.

The applicants will then be screened either through a paper analysis or a series of interviews performed by Fisher. He’s expecting to receive many applications and said there seems to be a high level of interest from the community.

After determining who is the most qualified to serve on the regional advisory groups, Fisher will provide recommendations to the County Council. He anticipates this will happen at the beginning of July.

Each regional group representing the West Side as well as North Summit and South Summit will have seven members. There is also a nine-member central committee made up of three members from each zone, who will be nominated by their respective groups. The executive body will include four at-large members, with a preference for one being an agricultural or natural resources professional.

Once the groups are formed, Fisher said, they will start a process with county staffers to develop a set of criteria and values they want used to judge open space considerations in their region. Each advisory committee is expected to have a different set of standards based on the values of residents living there and will act as a think tank for the best use of land in targeted areas.

The information will be used by the executive committee to determine how properties are reviewed. These meetings may start soon after the advisory groups are created, but Fisher said he’s unsure how long discussions will last or how often they’ll occur – making it hard to predict when the ideas will be presented to the executive committee for approval or if further deliberations will occur.

Each regional group has a 90-day window to develop the criteria, but the task will be passed onto the open space advisory committee if the deadline is reached before finalization. The advisory groups will likely be dissolved afterward.

If the County Council is also satisfied the standards accomplish what it hopes to achieve with the bond proceeds, elected officials, land trusts and other partners will move forward with pursuing properties they want to protect. Landowners who are interested in negotiating a deal with the county for preservation or open space are asked to file a notice of interest with the executive committee. The executive committee will hear a presentation from the landowner, or from a land trust that worked with a property owner, regarding the acreage. This could also include a site visit to review the land.

Fisher said staffers also anticipate some projects to be presented by landowners before a standard is established. If that happens, the land won’t be excluded from an evaluation.

“We don’t want to miss any opportunities that are brought forward,” he said.

Individuals interested in serving on one of the regional advisory groups can apply at:

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