The City Council voted to add six properties to a list of possible property acquisitions, but the controversy isn’t over about the city buying property.
"I do not believe some of these projects have any plan. They’re only on here to protect a particular neighborhood from development, with no plan of what to do with them or insight," Councilmember Liz Aspen said. "...Some of them make sense. We have a plan, we have a reason for purchasing them. Others we do not, other than stopping development."
At last week’s meeting, the council approved Ordinance 582, adding six properties to the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and the comprehensive plan. The properties could be used for open space and recreation, stream buffers for Little Bear Creek and traffic improvements.
Councilmember Susan Boundy-Sanders then moved to refer another property, the Halsey property, to the planning commission so the planning commission could make a recommendation about adding the Halsey property to the CIP.
Boundy-Sanders asked to add the Halsey property to the CIP in December, but the council voted against it.
One of the owners, Mike Halsey, has repeatedly asked the council to purchase the property for the city, saying his late father wished to make the land public.
Boundy-Sanders said buying the Halsey property would protect public safety, give the city more open space and make the most of having a willing seller.
"It is basically 100 percent critical areas. It’s a combination of landslide hazard areas, wetlands, erosion hazard areas and steep slopes — in many cases, in the same square inch of ground. ... Basically, there is no way to build safely on that land," she said. "Conversely, it does have ... not old growth, but it is a mature forest, a beautifully forested piece of property. And I would argue that its highest and best use is as forested open space."
Councilmember Les Rubstello said those arguments created "a false sense of urgency."
"I have a problem with this because we don’t have a program of buying sensitive areas and putting them into the public trust," he said. "We seem to be finding properties and then wanting to buy them and then kind of creating the program backwards."
Boundy-Sanders countered that the city has been considering buying the Halsey property since 2004, when citizens testified about geologic and slope stability hazards on the property.
Aspen disagreed, saying the city only dealt with the Draughn property in 2004, and that the Halsey property wasn’t for sale then.
Alexandra Sheeks, assistant to the city manager, confirmed that in 2004, the council changed the zoning of the Draughn property from open space to R-1 with Ordinance 379, but didn’t include anything about the Halsey property.
Even if the city doesn’t know what it will use the Halsey property for, Boundy-Sanders said, the city should consider buying it now because there’s a willing seller.
Gene Halsey, one of four siblings who now own their late father’s property, said the family would love to sell the property to the city so it could become public land.
He said they would trust the city to decide what to use it for, based on what the public wants, but he added it would be "ideal for nature trails." He acknowledged the land has critical areas that would require setbacks from other uses on the property.
The property is now zoned for residential housing, and if the city decides not to buy the land, "we would use it for what the city has it currently designated for," Halsey said.