Half of Eastern Open Space Given to Private Businesses, Subsidized by Taxpayers

Did you vote to give the open space you are paying for to a private business and a developer so they can generate profits for their businesses?

 That is what is happening with more than half of the 132-acre “open space” San Juan residents voted to purchase in 2009 at Ortega and La Pata. The remaining “open space” is largely unusable hilly or conservation easements.  

The two open space parcels monopolized by private businesses are the 70-acre Riding Park, used for elite Hunter-Jumper and Dressage competitions, and a 2.4-acre parcel previously leased to The Oaks when it was owned by Joan Irvine-Smith. Irvine-Smith used the 2.4 acres as an adjunct to her neighboring equestrian facility.

The lease of the publicly owned open space to a
private company restricts the public from using it.
The City collects only $4,800 per year from the developer for the 2.4 acre open space parcel while SJC taxpayers pay approximately $37,000 per year in interest on the bond payment. In addition, a boarder claimed that the developer is leasing horse “turn outs” for $1,000 per month each on the property, a
claim the developer denies.

Since February 2016, the ownership and lease of the 2.4 acres has been discussed by both the Trails and Equestrian Commission, and the Parks, Recreation, Senior and Youth Services Commission. Both commissions recommended that the City Council approve removal of the fence and giving use of the property to the residents who are paying for it, as promised in Measure Y (the Open Space bond measure).

Instead of acting on the commissions’ recommendation, the issue was discussed by the City Council behind closed doors, and has been sent back to the commissions to discuss potential uses of the taxpayer-owned property. 

Although we are unsure who is behind the effort to give the taxpayer-owned property to the developer, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about the Davidson “equestrian lifestyle” residential development quotes Councilman Sam Allevato about Davidson’s development. “Mr. Davidson’s final plans for the project were well-received by neighbors and city officials. He got unanimous approval from both the city’s planning commission and city council—a rarity... They walked in and were able to build it with just some minor tweaks,” Mr. Allevato said (read the full WSJ Davidson Development article listed under “Community Links“, to the right).

                                   Lease of the 2.4 Acres; Is it Legal?

When Joan Irvine-Smith sold her equestrian facility known as “The Oaks” to developer Bill Davidson in 2013, her License Agreement with the City prohibited assumption of the lease of the 2.4 acre parcel of publicly-owned open space without prior written consent. The original 2010 License Agreement states, “LICENSEE may not assign, sublet or otherwise transfer its interest under this Agreement without the prior written consent of the LICENSOR [the City]. Any attempted assignment, sublet or transfer of this provision shall be null and void.” (see the entire 2010 Oaks License Agreement under “Community Links”). We can find no prior written consent, yet the license agreement was somehow transferred to the new property owner.

 • It is unknown why the City allowed Davidson to assume the License Agreement/lease of property that belongs to and is paid for by the public.

 • It is also unknown why the developer is being charged only $4,800 per year for the acreage, when the interest payment on the parcel paid by SJC taxpayers amounts to an estimated $37,000 per year.

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