Although it wasn't on their agenda, Durango city councilors found time to again discuss the ongoing dispute over the Parks, Open Space and Trails, or POST, master plan rewrite Tuesday night.
After criticism by three residents during public comments, four of the five councilors spent more than an hour in a sometimes-heated debate over the process, which is being conducted by the firm PROS Consulting. Councilor Michael Rendon was absent because of an illness.
Councilor Leigh Meigs, who along with Scott Graham has been a vocal critic of the firm hired to rewrite the POST master plan, introduced a letter written by Fort Lewis College professor of research methodology Sue Kraus. In the letter to City Council and staff, Kraus criticized the survey mailed to Durango residents in late January intended to gauge public opinion for the future of POST.
"The survey I received is an excellent example of how NOT to design a survey ... I am very concerned that city money was spent on a survey that will result in more confusion than clarity," Kraus wrote in the letter.
Kraus' letter also included eight specific criticisms of individual components of the Leisure Vision/ETC Institute survey, the firm subcontracted by PROS to write it.
While none of the councilors disputed Kraus' credentials or her standing in the community, Doug Lyon and Renee Parsons sided against Meigs' and Graham's use of the letter to impede the POST rewrite process.
"Your opposition to this process predates this letter," Lyon said to Meigs.
The councilors agreed to give Leisure Vision an opportunity to respond directly to Kraus' critique and also to allow the POST Master Plan resident steering committee to review it before the results of the survey are compiled and returned. Because the POST discussion took place during reports and actions portion of the meeting, additional action could not be taken Tuesday night.
Also Tuesday:•Councilors voted unanimously to purchase a 223-acre parcel in the Horse Gulch area owned by the Crader family for about $670,000. The bulk of the money will come from the POST funds for open-space acquisition, and POST Development Manager Kevin Hall said it is likely the city also could receive a Great Outdoors Colorado grant for $220,000 toward the purchase. The Craders agreed to a closing date in December to allow the city to pursue the grant.
The Natural Lands Preservation Board endorsed the purchase at its Feb. 11 meeting. Durango's Open Space fund currently contains about $2.3 million before the Crader purchase.
"This is an absolute high priority and something we as a community have been working on for a decade or longer, and the price is terrific," Graham said.
•In another unanimous vote, the city finalized an agreement with Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad owner Al Harper to acquire 2.1 miles of D&SNG right of way north from 32nd Street to the city limits for the completion of the Animas River Trail. Under the agreement, the city will pay Harper $250,000 annually for four years for a 14-foot-wide easement.
Harper will be responsible to negotiate with any neighboring property owners if boundary issues arise, but if any of those negotiations exceeds $300,000, he has the right to terminate the agreement. Hall said design of the trail is about 30 percent complete, and it is being done to follow the D&SNG tracks. He estimated that construction could begin in 2010.
Councilors complimented the agreement and thanked Harper individually. Meigs echoed the opinion of City Attorney David Smith that the land purchase could have been much costlier if the city had to negotiate with individual property owners.
"I appreciate Mr. Harper taking the risks on this, and it wouldn't have been fair to expect a giveaway," she said.