Douglas County Commission adopts open space plan

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Douglas County commissioners on Wednesday voted to adopt a plan that aims to preserve and promote open space in the county.

The plan defines open space as grasslands, public parks, farmland, private conserved land, cultural sites, wetlands, floodplain, trails, historic features, old growth forest, and other recreational spaces and sensitive ecosystems. 

The plan lays out criteria and priorities for certain types of land and soils, highlights historic and cultural sites and includes some recommendations for implementation.

It recommends adding a full-time position of open space lead staff role, potentially through the use of federal COVID-19 relief funds, to “Coordinate private land conservation, including processing and monitoring of protected lands, natural resource stewardship of County properties, facilitation of public access, outreach and education, and more.”

It also recommends some future steps for land use mapping, creating an open space zoning district, promoting expanded floodplain protections and more.

The plan does not change any current zoning in Douglas County, nor does the approval of the plan mean the commissioners have agreed to add the full-time position.

In addition to public meetings to discuss the plan and an online survey to bring in feedback, the county mailed out 6,000 questionnaires to residents in the unincorporated areas of the county.

Commission Chair Karen Willey said she commends the project team for their work on the plan, which “has been a little bit like pinning down Jell-O,” she said.

“I think having a framework for us to have a conversation with what we care about and having tools for landowners that also care about their land and would like to see it preserved, or public access, or any of the above things that are here — I really valued that from the beginning of this idea,” she said.

Commission Vice Chair Shannon Reid said she would like to see staff members explore opportunities for landowners to return land to tribal nations.

View the complete plan with the agenda item at this link.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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