Boulder City Council members late Tuesday night voted to approve an updated open space acquisition plan, but they struggled with the decision without an upcoming needs assessment and scheduled June discussion on what ballot measures to present to voters.
Some council members wanted to continue the item, but a majority of council members said they had sufficient information in the plan to approve it. Ultimately, they voted 8-1 to adopt the plan, with Councilwoman Suzy Ageton voting no.
The Open Space and Mountain Parks department presented three scenarios at different levels of spending -- a fiscally constrained plan, an action plan and a vision plan.
The fiscally constrained plan stays within the department's current revenue stream and allows $3.4 million a year or $23.8 million through 2020 to buy roughly 1,190 acres.
The action plan would use some of the department's fund balance to spend $5.4 million a year or $37.8 million to buy roughly 1,890 acres.
The vision plan would require the extension of two open space taxes or the identification of other funding sources. The vision plan includes most of the 7,620 acres identified for possible purchase in the open space plan at a cost of $89.7 million.
The new plan adds lands to reflect two new City Council priorities -- providing connections between existing trails to eventually complete a "Trail Around Boulder" and protecting land in Leyden Gulch.
The plan reflects the fact that two sales taxes -- a 0.33 percent sales tax initially approved in 1989 and extended in 1997, and a 0.15 percent tax approved in 2003 -- are set to expire in 2018 and 2019. Those taxes provide about 55 percent of the open space budget and are used largely for acquisition of new properties.
Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum said the department still has lots of money available for new property, and the city should consider scaling back its ambitions.
"It's just not all going to happen, and we need to accept that," he said.Open Space Director Mike Patton said the city can still buy properties under lease-purchase agreements, but it would need to be careful not to spend down the department's fund balance.
The department is working with a financial adviser about how to best use its funds.Other council members said they were open to putting tax extensions on the ballot.
Ramona Clark, executive director of Growing Gardens, asked the city to prioritize the preservation of urban agriculture lands, specifically Long's Garden, which is also home to Growing Gardens, a community garden project. Several urban farmers and Boulder residents also asked the city to buy a conservation easement to protect Long's Garden.
City officials have previously balked at the price of the conservation easement and decided open space shouldn't be the lead agency pursuing that purchase.
Ruth Blackmore of PLAN-Boulder County asked the City Council to place the 0.33 percent sales tax that supports open space acquisitions on the ballot in 2013. She said lands become available in an unpredictable way, and if the department can use guaranteed future revenues to issue bonds, it will be in a better position to take advantage of properties that become available.Councilman Macon Cowles asked that the plan be amended to include Long's Garden and another small urban farm on Iris Avenue to reflect the high priority of urban agriculture.
A number of council members were supportive of protecting Long's Garden, but they want the Open Space Board of Trustees to look at the issue first.
Ageton said she couldn't vote for the plan before the open space department completes its needs assessment. She asked whether the community was interested in buying urban land or might have other priorities.
Councilman Tim Plass said the plan was conservative enough to deal with future fiscal constraints and flexible enough to allow for more land purchases if voters extend the sales tax.The City Council will discuss a possible open space tax extension in June as part of a broader discussion of November ballot issues.