It may seem strange that the one organization in Estes Park who conserves and protects open space, the Estes Valley Land Trust (EVLT), has not been very vocal in the debate about conserving Lot 4. “Lot 4” is the commercially zoned lot behind Safeway, Rocky Mountain Pharmacy, the UPS Store, the dry cleaner, Dad’s Laundry and more. The EVLT has finally released a statement about their position on Lot 4, but it is nearly neutral in nature. It may raise more concerns than it answers.
Estes Park residents will vote specifically on whether or not to attempt to conserve Lot 4 on April 1st. There are two measures on the ballot regarding the lot: one measure asks whether the town should sell the lot, and the other asks if the lot should be put into a conservation easement. Both cannot happen, even if they both pass.
A few facts about conserving Lot 4:
- The 6.88 acre Lot 4 is owned by the Town of Estes Park, who would like to sell it.
- The town owns the lot and would have to ask EVLT for a formal evaluation to determine if it meets their conservation values.
- In 2008, EVLT documented the conservation value of the property and it remained zoned as commercial property.
- Because Lot 4 is in the Stanley Historic district, if it is developed, 30% of it must be open space.
- Several factors come into play when determining the conservation value of a vacant lot, including: access into Estes Park, RMNP or Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest, value to the community for scenic character, protecting vistas, creating larger blocks of contiguous open space, etc.
- Credit deductions for conservation value include being next to a commercial development, size of lot, and hazardous conditions.
- The basic cost to enter a property into a conservation easement are from $10,000 to $20,000 for a normal property. Costs could be higher because of the political ramifications (EVLT will have to protect itself against lawsuits) and the fact it is owned by the town.
- There are 22 steps involved with EVLT accepting a property for a conservation easement, so at any point, the lot could be rejected.
Consider these questions before voting on Lot 4.
- The EVLT has a list of properties it is interested in preserving because those properties meet their criteria for conservation. (One of those properties is the Fish Hatchery site.) Where does Lot 4 sit on the priority list? Of the town owned properties, it’s near the bottom of the list considering the criteria (as outlined by the EVLT) above.
- If voters chose to “conserve Lot 4”, will the EVLT even take it on?
- Where will the money come from if Lot 4 is voted to be “saved?” It originally sold to the town for around $1.1 million. The EVLT does not purchase properties, so who takes on the financial burden?
- Is the current purchase price of the Lot ($1.35 million) something the town can afford to turn down?
- If Lot 4 is so important to be saved, why are Friends of Lot 4 not trying to raise the money to purchase the lot themselves and put it into a conservation easement? Why are they asking the taxpayers to back it when taxpayers already purchased the lot?
- Lot 4 was originally purchased by the Town of Estes Park as the location for the municipal buildings, police and fire station. Where were the “Friends of Lot 4” at that time?
- Who will pay for the upkeep and stewardship of Lot 4 if it is put into a conservation easement?
A few more questions to ask when considering the conservation value of Lot 4:
- Have you ever picnicked on Lot 4?
- Have you ever seen anyone picnicking on Lot 4?
- Would you ride a horse or hike on Lot 4? If so, would you be okay riding or hiking through town or neighborhoods to get there?
- Are the proponents of saving Lot 4 willing to kick in $1.35 million to preserve it to offset the loss that will happen if it doesn’t sell?
- Have you seen native wildflowers growing on Lot 4? A study shows planting would be futile. What would it take to restore the area so flowers/grass could be planted to make it attractive to tourists?
- A view is not just in one direction – stand on the lot and look around 360 degrees. What do you see? The back of a commercial development in one direction, the Stanley Hotel in another direction, and houses in another direction.
Voting on these two issues (Save Lot 4 and/or Sell Lot 4) will be on the April 1 ballot for residents of the Town of Estes Park. Know the facts and vote.