Toepfer, Sweetwater parks sale in Douglas County still undecided

Negotiation powers remain with school district


Months after Douglas County offered to purchase Toepfer and Sweetwater parks, the ultimate decision still remains in the hands of the Douglas County School District.

In June, Douglas County commissioners gave county staff authorization to negotiate the purchase of the 10-acre Toepfer Park in Highlands Ranch and the 30 acres of Sweetwater Park near Lone Tree.

The two parks were donated by developers to the school district for future school sites. Early this year, the school district announced intentions to sell the land in the two communities because the sites are not needed for schools.

Residents of Highlands Ranch and the Lone Tree area have spoken out against the possibility of the school district selling the parks to housing developers. Douglas County commissioners agreed with public sentiment that the land should be kept as open space.

In June, Dan Avery, chief land-use planner for Douglas County, submitted a purchase offer based on the county’s appraisal of the land. As negotiations have continued in the background between the school district and county, a point of contention has been over the appraised value of the land, according to county officials.

The county and school district have differing opinions on the land’s value, Avery said. While the county’s appraisal is based on the current zoning designations for both Toepfer and Sweetwater parks, the school district’s appraisals focus on what the land would be valued at if developed.

Currently, both Sweetwater and Toepfer parks are zoned as open space. If sold to a potential developer, Avery said the prospective landowner would have to go through the county to get the property rezoned for development.

The county’s independent appraisal of the land has Toepfer Park valued at $48,000 an acre. Sweetwater Park is valued at $1.3 million under the current zoning designations. While Sweetwater Park is a total of 30 acres, Avery said only 10 acres of the property was donated to the school district.

In total, the county offered the school district $942,000 for both parks, which is a total of 20 acres.

Nearly three months after the official land offers, the school district has yet to publicly discuss or counteroffer the purchase offer.

County officials stress that for now, the ball remains in the school district’s court. On June 22, the Douglas County School Board held an executive session with attorneys to discuss the properties. Another closed-door meeting was held on Aug. 10, where again the board discussed nothing regarding the negotiations in the open meeting portion of the agenda.

If the county does work out a deal with the school district, the Highlands Ranch Metro District will manage the parks as open space.

In giving the go-ahead to county staff to negotiate a deal with the school district earlier this year, Commissioner Abe Laydon said it is in step with what residents want, referring to community survey results where 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 are very important.

When the negotiation process started, Avery said there is no set timeline for the process to be completed.


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