Parks & Open Space strives to acquire properties that meet one or more of the following open space purposes:
- Preserving rural areas that provide community buffers including significant agricultural land.
- Land for passive recreation including land for public access and potential trail connections.
- Land with other significant resources (cultural, scenic, and natural), including natural landmarks, archaeological sites, historically significant land and buildings, scenic view corridors, significant plant communities, riparian corridors, wetlands, and wildlife habitat.
These purposes come from the Boulder County Comprehensive Plan, open space sales tax language, and Parks & Open Space’s mission, vision and goals. Decisions on which properties are suitable for open space are also informed by direction from the Parks & Open Space Director and recommendations from the Parks & Open Space Advisory Committee. Decisions are made the Boulder County Commissioners in their sole discretion.
The county has limited funds to invest in new open space acquisitions. The county considers numerous factors and evaluates every potential property acquisition carefully before pursuing the opportunity. The land most desirable for open space fulfills many of the above purposes, is adjacent to or near existing open space, and lies between communities in locations where the county and the communities agree on desired buffers (rather than lying in areas that have been designated for future development).
Boulder County acquires property for open space from willing sellers for fair market value. Methods include full purchase, partial donation (called a bargain sale), and full donation. When certain land use processes apply, the county may also acquire property interests in exchange for land use approvals. Several acquisition “tools” (different types of interests in land) can be used to fulfill open space purposes, including:
- Fee title: The owner conveys the property to the county. Interests include land, water rights, and mineral rights.
- Conservation easement, deed restriction or restrictive covenant: The owner agrees to restrict uses of the property in exchange for cash, tax benefits, land use approvals for use of adjacent land, or other compensation, such as Transferable Development Rights (TDRs) that owners can sell to developers for use where the county and local municipality have agreed to allow greater density, or Transferable Development Credits (TDCs) that owners can sell for use on properties where owners have received land use approval to exceed single-family residential size limits. These properties remain privately owned and are therefore not open to the public.
- Easement: The owner agrees to grant an easement benefiting open space, such as a trail easement or an access easement across private land.
- Lease or management agreement: The county leases land, such as from the State Land Board, or otherwise agrees to manage land for open space.
The county acquires interests on its own and sometimes also in partnership with cities, towns, state and federal agencies, land trusts, and other conservation partners. Intergovernmental agreements with towns and cities support these partnerships.