County to submit offer for Toepfer, Sweetwater parks

Douglas County School District has final say to sale

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With the Douglas County commissioners on board, county staff will extend an official offer to purchase Teopfer and Sweetwater parks early this month.

The offer will be extended to the Douglas County School District, which owns the 10 acres at Teopfer Park in Highlands Ranch and 30 acres at Sweetwater Park adjacent to Lone Tree. Ultimately, Dan Avery, chief land-use planner for Douglas County, said the school district has the final say on selling the two parks.

Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon said it is important for the county to do whatever they can to purchase the parks and work to keep the land with open space designations. County commissioners have not only heard directly from residents, but Laydon said it is impressive that nearly 100 members of the Lone Tree and Highlands Ranch communities turned out for last month's public hearing with the Parks Advisory Board.

“These parks, in particular, are crown jewels,” Lyndon said. “We want to work with the school district and our partners to preserve this open space.”

In Douglas County, when land is donated, the deed to the property is held by the county until the school district decides what to do with the land.

Laydon said the 2021 community survey results had more than 98% of respondents agree that protecting and preserving natural land and wildlife habitat is important. Of those surveyed, 96% believe funding county and municipal parks/outdoor recreation programs and protecting scenic views is very important.

Still, getting these parks under county control is not a done deal. Laydon said county staff will submit an offer to purchase the land from the school district that is fair and will also allow the school district to receive an amount that is appropriate.

“We want to collaborate with one another and assure that we find a solution that makes sense,” Laydon said. “As a commissioner, it is rare to see such a level for unanimous support for something. All residents, boards and commissioners agree on this. We want to honor the voices of our citizens and preserve these parks.”

Avery said an independent appraisal obtained by the county values the 10 acres at Toepfer Park at about $48,000 an acre. At Sweetwater Park, the 30-acre property is valued at $1.3 million. Avery said, based on land assessments, he feels the county can purchase 10 acres of Sweetwater Park.

In total, Avery said they will submit an official offer to the school district early this month in the amount of $942,000 for both parks. Negotiations with school district staff will continue once a formal offer is submitted, Avery said.

While the county's appraisals are more $900,000, Avery said the school district has placed higher value on the land. The school district appraisals were formed as if the land would be used for housing.

Avery said both parks are currently zoned as open space. The county's independent appraisals are based on the current land designation, Avery said.

If the school district refuses to sell the land to the county and moves forward with selling to a developer, the new property owner would have to go through the county for zoning and plan approval, Avery said.

Avery said there is no set timeline for completion as the process moves into the negotiation process.

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