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Archive for Wednesday, June 6, 2001

Task force eyeing green spaces

ECO2 discusses idea of purchasing open areas for community

June 6, 2001

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An idea to preserve Douglas County's agricultural land, grassy areas and wide open spaces is in the works.

Members of ECO2, a Lawrence Chamber of Commerce task force designated to look for open and commercial spaces, discussed developing a master plan to do just that Tuesday.

The plan to acquire land probably would require a public bond issue or other taxing authority measure, said County Commissioner Charles Jones, who also serves on the task force.

"It would be a mistake for us to wait and realize we need land for flood management or preservation efforts," he said. "It would be so much smarter to acquire the land beforehand."

Land conservation efforts are taking place nationwide.

According to Land Trust Alliance, the nation's leader of private land conservation efforts, voters approved 174 of 209 ballot questions in city, county and statewide elections last year, providing $7.5 billion for land conservation. In 1999, 92 of 102 referenda passed, authorizing more than $1.8 billion in local taxing authority and bonds for open space preservation.

In late April, the Journal-World detailed the decades-old effort in Boulder, Colo., to purchase open space with city and county sales tax funds. The effort has resulted in the purchase of more than 90,000 acres of green space at a cost of $285 million.

In 1998, the Johnson County Park and Recreation District led the effort for a successful $6 million bond drive to acquire 1,200 acres. The land created Big Bull Creek Park near Edgerton.

Randy Knight, the district's special project manager, said he was working on a master plan, called MAP 2020, to secure 7,000 more acres during the next two decades. He said the land would slightly double the county's open and recreational spaces.

"It has to be done right now because the cost of land is skyrocketing," he said.

Knight advised Douglas County's officials to develop a plan to get in front of commercial and residential development.

First, the chamber group must define the term open space, which can include items such as migratory pathways, flood-control measures, bicycle paths, historic sites, parks and agricultural uses.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak, of what open space should be," said Roger Pine, task force member and owner of Pine Family Farms.

The group agreed conservation easements also could be a piece of the puzzle.

Monday, several task force members toured Akin Prairie, southeast of Lawrence to see the possibilities. Akin Prairie was the first conservation easement for the Kansas Land Trust.

In 1994, landowner Tom Akin signed a conservation easement with KLT ensuring the 16-acre prairie would be safeguarded in perpetuity. Now, there are four such easements in Douglas County; the trust has nine statewide.

"It's a very powerful tool to protect the land rather than covenants or other agreements," said Laurie Ward, KLT's executive director.

She said an easement helps protects the land in its present use. The easement also can be written to allow modifications such as developing native prairie land or recreational trails. Land can be owned by a municipality or an individual who sells the development rights. KLT helps ensure the land is protected and maintained, Ward said.

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