Open Space Element – Renewed and Redesigned

Caribou Ranch

The Boulder County Comprehensive Plan (BCCP) lays out plans to achieve the vision for the county’s physical form: channel growth to municipalities, protect agricultural lands, and give high priority to preserving our environmental and natural resources in land use decisions. To flesh out this vision, goals and policies are set forth in the Comprehensive Plan Elements. In addition to the Open Space Element (OSE), the other elements that directly affect open space management are: Agriculture, Environmental Resources, Cultural Resources, and the Trails Plan.

When the Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 1978, the county’s Open Space Department was just three years old and the county’s first successful open space tax was still 15 years off. The concept of publicly-owned and managed open space was fairly new, so naturally, the OSE had a heavy emphasis on acquisition methods and tools as well as the other programs in the department at that time. There was an update in 1996, but much has changed in the county and the open space program in the last 20 years.

Update with Goals in Mind

A team of staff from the Parks and Open Space and Land Use Departments began working on the OSE Update in 2015. Consistent with the goals of other recent BCCP element updates, the staff goals for the OSE update were to:

  • Continue to provide high level guidance
  • Update and broaden the goals and policies to reflect the range of
  • programs and activities inherent in a mature open space program
  • Eliminate redundancies and references to programs
  • Streamline and simplify the document narrative
  • Streamline the mapping that accompanies the Open Space Element
  • Provide a forward-looking focus to help navigate future opportunities and challenges

The 2017 OSE update was a complete redesign, with a new framework of goals to reflect the realities of a mature program. In addition to land acquisition, resource protection, and recreation, the update includes goals and policies addressing public engagement, cultural resource protection, climate change, and stewardship.

One example: new policy OS 3.05 states that Boulder County monitors and evaluates uses and resources on open space; that monitoring data will be analyzed and used to adapt management practices, and that monitoring data shall be available to the public (subject to the department’s sensitive data policy).

The OSE map underwent a major refresh. The original OSE map, titled “Open Space Plan” included a mix of categories used by Land Use for development reviews and status of public lands, including Proposed Open Space; Open Corridor, Streamside; and Open Corridor, Roadside. The updated OSE has two maps associated with it. The “Open Space and Public Lands Map” focuses on the status of land ownership of county open space and other public lands. The Proposed Open Space designation has been eliminated, in large part because most of the parcels with this designation have been acquired! The Open Corridor, Streamside designation has been eliminated as it is now incorporated into the Environmental Resources Element Maps. The second map, titled “View Protection Corridors Map” expands on the Open Corridor, Roadside designation. This map is intended to help inform a planner’s assessment of the aesthetic characteristics of Boulder County’s roadways, and to serve as a tool to support implementation of Policy 1.02.01 of the Open Space Element: “…the county shall avoid, minimize, or mitigate impacts on views from view protection corridors…”.  The Open Corridor, Streamside category was incorporated into the updated Environmental Resources Element maps.

Open Space Element Goals

  1. Protect: Boulder County recognizes and protects open space for its contribution to an exceptional quality of life.
  2. Conserve: Boulder County conserves the rural character of the unincorporated county by protecting and acquiring lands and waters embodying significant open space values and functions.
  3. Steward: Boulder County purposefully stewards its open space resources through sound management practices and appropriate visitor uses.
  4. Engage: Boulder County actively engages the public in stewarding, understanding, and enjoying county open space.
  5. Collaborate: Boulder County collaborates with stakeholders and partners to promote and protect open space values and functions.

You can find the updated Open Space Element along with other elements on the Boulder County Comprehensive Plan page.