Fort Collins open-space purchase fiscal folly

In theory, this area of separation would involve almost 32 square miles of property.
In 1995, as part of this process, one of the larger land parcels in this corridor area — a total of 960 acres — was presented to the Larimer County Commissioners for development review under a planned unit development. On Jan. 23, 1995, the PUD was approved as the McKee Charitable Trust Master Plan and Preliminary Phase Plan.
The Master Plan showed 318 single-family lots on the northernmost 150 acres of the property, with the remaining contiguous 810 acres planned as open space.
Because the proposed lots for development would be clustered adjacent to Fort Collins city limits and its urban growth area, the City of Fort Collins recommended denial of the Master Plan.
The Master Plan and Preliminary Phase Plan placed numerous conditions on development. One provision included "the final plat shall conform to the existing topography of the land in a manner that takes advantage of existing elevations to minimize the view from the County Road System and that will minimize cut and fill in the developed area."
In planning jargon, this means that the residential units within the development would be largely hidden from traffic on Shields/Taft or County Road 17 on the east and from Taft Hill Road/Wilson or County Road 19 on the west.
Thus, in 1995, Larimer County was able to secure preservation of 810 acres of open space in its corridor and a limited residential development at no cost to governmental entities by using progressive planning techniques, notably clustering development.
The City of Fort Collins objected because urban development of 318 units on 150 acres would take place outside of its designated urban growth area.
Until Sept. 15, 1997, the public was unaware of any changes to this plan. However, on that date, the Larimer County Commissioners approved an extension of the Master Plan and Preliminary Phase Plan until October 2002.
The City of Fort Collins supported the extension in a letter included in the presentation to commissioners.
The City˜s letter stated that it had entered into an option to purchase the property.
"The agreement is structured in a way that allows the property to be purchased over time, between October 1997 and October 2000."
City-provided documentation shows its agreement to be an option for the purchase and sale of real estate dated July 24, 1997. It provides for an initial purchase and three purchase options with total expected purchase price ranging from $2.5 million to $2.75 million.
Closing for the initial purchase is to be on or before Oct. 24, 1997.
The underlying dilemma facing the City of Fort Collins is how to spend its open-space tax moneys most effectively to promote the corridor. With 84 percent of the land in question already dedicated to open space and with views of development effectively limited, why should the city spend its resources here?
To conserve city money, further negotiations are apparently under way, this time with Fort Collins asking Larimer County and the City of Loveland to assist it in acquiring the McKee Trust property.
Some would say that spending $2.75 million for property currently appraised by the county assessor for less than $65,000 is fiscal folly.
Given the vast expanse of the corridor — up to 32 square miles — would it not be better for all governmental entities to spend their resources on land that is not already dedicated to preservation of open space?Former Fort Collins mayor John Knezovich is a certified public accountant.