Opinion | Susan Knopf: Our community can do better on Fiester Preserve | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Susan Knopf: Our community can do better on Fiester Preserve

Susan Knopf

The Fiester Preserve brouhaha is blowing up into a bomb cyclone. This week, Friends of the Lower Blue River announced they will stand alongside Bill’s Ranch residents and part-time vacation owners to oppose extinguishing the Fiester Preserve conservation easement.

The nonprofit group sent a letter to the Summit Daily News as well as the Summit Board of County Commissioners outlining concerns. Full disclosure: The letter is signed by my husband, Jonathan, who is the paid executive director of the group. The letters states, “There are conservation easements spread throughout the valley area. Extinguishing the conservation easement at the Fiester Preserve will put protection along the Lower Blue at risk. Once you decide to tamper with Fiester, any of our existing or future conservation easements could be targeted for development.”

Quite the opposite. State law prohibits trading one easement for another. The only way to swap is to create a new easement and extinguish the old. Rather than taking the attitude that this sets a terrible precedent, let’s set a terrific precedent. You can only extinguish an easement if the exchange parcel is actually better: bigger, offers better conservation value, and serves the same area and general purpose.

For the record, the parcel offered by the county ticks all the boxes.

To hear Bill’s Ranch advocates tell the story, the county has run roughshod over the community: no communication, no courtesy. Talk to county officials and you get a different story. County officials say they have been talking to Bill’s Ranch homeowners for years. They don’t want any change.

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Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence wants to change the tone of the conversation. She states, “I believe we have the opportunity for a unique collaboration. To maintain true to the promises of previous commissioners, while addressing the desperate need for senior living. This is not an either-or situation. But admittedly, we could have done a better job of working with the residents of Bills Ranch and our larger community on a collaborative solution. I feel that we missed the mark in not addressing this through our own communication channels, through public forums and visioning sessions with our community. We do this on many other types of projects and simply did not on this one. … I want to extended an olive branch to our community and ask that we start over on this. As a commissioner, I want to be working for and with the people of our community.”

Friends of the Lower Blue River board member Lynn Amstutz told me in an interview, “An easement is an easement is an easement. It’s forever. It’s a legal document. The purpose was to preserve it in perpetuity.”

Perpetuity. Forever. My problem is those are platitudes. Nothing is forever. Not a marriage. Not a business. Not a home. Not a river course. It’s a dream. It’s a goal. It’s not real.

Here’s what’s real: A pretty piece of property was preserved. Then the pine beetles destroyed most the trees. Real is the pretty piece of property just behind it that connects to the recreation path. The county owns it and is prepared to conserve it. There is no reason that parcel can’t be named Fiester Preserve as the county moves to extinguish the conservation easement of the former Fiester parcel, which isn’t really doing anything to enhance our community and doesn’t really preserve anything.

Or perhaps the senior housing can go in the front of the Fiester parcel, and the workforce housing can go in the rear of the second parcel the county is willing to conserve. Then Fiester Preserve is amended, not extinguished, and the new preserve is larger, longer and connects to the recpath.

I respect my friends and neighbors who keep insisting a promise is a promise and that a government needs to keep its promise to the people. Wishful, hopeful thinking. We need to think about the best interest of the entire community.

Lawrence is right. We need to work with the larger community on a collaborative solution.

What we can’t do is get ourselves whipped up into a frenzy. We need to keep our eyes on the real political issue looming in front of us this year: electing a new senator and a new president. You want to talk environmental danger? The New York Times reports Trump is rolling back 95 environmental protections.  We can all do better, and we can find the win-win that serves seniors and protects our environment.

Susan Knopf’s column “For The Record” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf has worn many hats in her career, including working as an award-winning journalist and certified ski instructor. She moved to Silverthorne in 2013 after vacationing in Summit County since the 1970s. Contact her at sdnknopf@gmail.com.

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