At first public meeting about Open Space Plan development process, community members say they want financial challenges of conservation addressed

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Community members gathered at the Lawrence Public Library Thursday, June 8, 2023, to share their thoughts about the future of Douglas County's open spaces. The county is in the early stages of crafting an Open Space Plan.

Community members shared their thoughts Thursday evening on the future of Douglas County’s natural, undeveloped lands, and some of their key concerns revolved around the financial challenges that come with conservation.

The group gathered at the Lawrence Public Library to weigh in on priorities as the county develops an Open Space Plan. When that plan is eventually implemented, it will act as a broad policy guide toward prioritizing a range of ecosystems and land uses, from floodplains and historic sites to trails and prairies.

Specifically, folks who attended the meeting wanted the team working on the plan to think about how it should address the complicated challenges associated with land ownership and conservation easements — voluntary legal agreements that permanently limit the use of a piece of land.

“Right now, one of the biggest barriers is the financial components to land ownership and conservation and how all that mixes together,” said Douglas County Heritage Coordinator Kaitlyn Ammerlaan, who led one of the discussion groups at Thursday’s meeting. “Truly, it’s not always financially feasible to protect land for conservation when it’s easier to sell.”

For that group, one of the biggest solutions to that issue was through tax incentives that could ease those burdens, Ammerlaan said.

Other groups also had finances at the top of mind, and not just concerning taxes. One group was concerned about the financial viability of small-scale farming, and another had concerns about the rising cost of land and how that can be a financial barrier to folks who want to live in unincorporated areas of the county.

But at the same time, most groups had some optimistic ideas about the future of the county’s open spaces. One group noted how important open space is for farming, raising families and providing an opportunity to learn how to respect the environment. Others discussed how they hoped to see more trails and walkability throughout the county as more people look toward the area’s open spaces as a chance to be in nature.

The plan is being developed by a team that includes an advisory committee of community members with diverse experiences from across the county and staff in the county’s sustainability, zoning and codes, and heritage conservation departments. Environmental planning and design firm Logan Simpson and Lawrence-based Coneflower Consulting make up the other side of the project team.

Though Thursday’s meeting was the first dedicated chance to gather in-person public feedback, the team working on the plan has already been trying to get folks involved in the current “community visioning” stage of development. Kristina Kachur, one of Logan Simpson’s representatives on the project team, said Thursday that there have been almost 500 responses to a questionnaire about what respondents want to see in the plan so far. The questionnaire remains open until July 1, and more information about how to get involved in the plan development process is available on the county’s website.

From here, Kachur said the project team would work to sort through the feedback gathered through the end of this month and return by late summer or early fall with some preliminary goals and recommendations for the first draft of the plan.

Thursday’s meeting was the first of two public meetings this week offering a chance to be involved in the early stages of the planning process for the Open Space Plan. A second meeting is on tap from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Friday at the Lone Star Lake Community Building, 665 East 665 Road.


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