Pajarito Mountain land transfer concerns are easy to resolve

 Aaron Zhu / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Aaron Zhu / CC-BY-SA 3.0

As many citizens are aware, the complete ownership of Pajarito Mountain is planned for transfer to a private company, Pajarito Recreation, LLC (PRLLC). This has been controversial due to concerns about public access for non-skiing activities and natural resource conservation, which we have previously expressed ourselves.

We emphasize that PCA strongly supports all the uses of the mountain, including specifically downhill skiing and mountain biking as well as hiking, running, cross-country skiing, etc. We are not opposed to a public-private arrangement, we agree that PRLLC seems like a reasonable partner, and we acknowledge the good faith of the ski club and everyone else involved.

Accordingly, we believe that the transfer should move ahead, but the County Council should insist on two simple conditions before approving public funding for the water pipeline upon which this transfer depends.

1. Strong legal protections for preserving public access.

While we’d prefer an independently managed conservation easement, we believe that deed covenants, as preferred by PRLLC, would be sufficient, provided they are strong. Our concern here is that the draft language published in the ski club memo has several big loopholes.

We encourage the ski club, PRLLC, and the county council to collect public comment on this language before finalizing it.

2. Standing for the entire community on zoning changes.

Another key protection for the mountain is the current W-2 “Recreation Wilderness District” zoning. A public process is required to change this zoning.

However, only people who live within 300 feet of a proposed zoning change have standing to testify about that change. Only the Forest Service and the county government own land within that distance of the Pajarito Mountain property. Citizens of the county would not have standing to testify for or against the change.

For a flagship resource like Pajarito Mountain, this implication is concerning to us, and we hope it can be mitigated.

We believe these conditions will not slow the transfer significantly, will have no effect on the viability of skiing on the mountain, and will go a long way to allay the concerns regarding non-skiing recreation and natural resources, thus preserving the mountain as a resource for all citizens.