More Open Space?

More Open Space?

Council considers broadening open space easement program.

<bt>The City Council received a report from staff that recommends broadening the range of properties that is currently eligible for open space easements.

“Unlike most historic easements, these are not required to go into perpetuity,” said Councilman Rob Krupicka. “As the parent of two small children, for example, I could ask for an open space easement on my large lot and provide them with a beautiful backyard in which to play and then sell the property to pay for their college education. In the meantime, I could take a $2000 per year tax break for 20 years and pay none of that back. I’m just not certain that this is the right way to obtain open space.”

The recommendation would allow people with lots of between two and five acres to apply for open space easements for a specified period of time. “We would like them to be into perpetuity but aren’t requiring that,” said Cindy Page Smith, who is in charge of real estate assessments for the city. “We could get open space for five, 10 or 20 years and the property owners could get a tax break.”

To obtain such an easement, the property owner would simply agree to not develop developable space for a certain amount of time. “If that property owner decided to sell the property before the specified amount of time agreed upon for the easement, the property owner would have to pay back a portion of the tax break,” said Ignacio Pessoa, the city attorney.

VICE MAYOR Redella S. “Del” Pepper supports the program. “There is more benefit to open space than just having the open space be usable by the public,” she said. “There’s the view that many can appreciate and enjoy and there are other benefits to the environment,” she said.

Krupicka wasn’t convinced. “Why should we reward those who happen to live in a part of the city with larger lots and not reward people who are environmentally conscious and happen to live in Del Ray,” he asked. “For example, why not give people a tax break for having green roves or a green driveway? — Many of you know that I have a green driveway, for example. — I just think there might be a better way to encourage people to maintain open space.”

The program, if adopted, would cost the city around $200,000 a year and would increase the number of properties that are eligible for an open space easement by 35.

Judy Noritake, chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission and co-chair of the Open Space Steering Committee, said, “This matter was referred to the Parks and Rec. Commission by a previous council. After much debate, we decided to support the program but recommended that it be considered for property no less than one acre. We did this at a time when the city had very few ways to obtain open space. Now, we have a number of mechanisms in place — the open space trust fund being chief among them. This is just one additional tool but by no means the most important,” she said.

Council will take public input on Saturday, Dec. 18, and will vote after the public hearing. Those who are interested in speaking can call the city clerk’s office at 703-838-4500 or sign up on the day of the public hearing.