ALPINE — The deer and the antelope will always have a place to play in Alpine — even if no one is quite sure who owns the land on which they roam.
City officials and land developers are at odds over the city's open-space ordinance, which limits population density by designating some areas as open space that cannot be developed.
The debate is far from acrimonious — both sides agree that open space is crucial to maintaining the off-the-beaten-path charm of the city — but land developers are concerned that city officials are taking too much of the designated land for the public while limiting the rights of individuals to own the land privately.
"There was one development recently that had quite a bit of private space," said Planning Commission Chairwoman Jannicke Brewer at a meeting this week.
"And the mayor said, 'Please discuss this,' because the City Council, and the mayor, especially, seem to feel like it would serve the public better (if the land is public)."
The present language of the city's public space ordinance reads: "The designation of open space shall be made so that its use and enjoyment as open space shall not be diminished or destroyed."
Brewer said city officials were concerned that the increase in the amount of privately owned open space could diminish the public's enjoyment of that space.
But developers at the meeting took issue with some of the ordinance's other language that does not clearly define the criteria for privately owned space.
Some questioned if the ordinance even allowed for private ownership.
The ordinance allows for homeowners' associations or private trusts to own open space — but there is no language that gives that right to individual landowners.
Developers also questioned the city's "sole discretion" clause, which gives city officials the right to unilaterally decide if open space is public or private.
City officials seemed hesitant to alter that clause but did recognize that if the city wants to take open space for public use, it has to pay for it.
"I think there are times when the city is able to say, 'The public needs this space and we are going to take it,' " said David Church, Alpine city attorney. "But the city must be willing to reach into its pocket and pay for it."
Church explained to the commission and developers that general guidelines exist when a city requests an exaction, which is when the city asks for land or some other privilege, such as water rights, in exchange for granting building permits.
Those guidelines are:
There must be a direct connection between the nature of the permit and the requested exaction;
The exaction must further a legitimate public purpose;
The exaction and the permit must have some rough proportionality; and
The calculation for exactions must be done on a case-by-case basis.
Church and Brewer agreed that some of the ordinance's language could use some clarification. Proposals from city officials and developers are being considered.
"This ordinance as not as well-written as most of what we do here," Church said.