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May 12, 2012
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Land exchange would create open space

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - State, local and federal officials have been working for the past four years on a land exchange involving thousands of acres and millions of dollars. The project just might get done this year.The Eagle Valley Land Exchange was first proposed in 2008. Among all the pieces - including $4.6 million of county money and $1 million from the town of Avon - the two U.S. Forest Service parcels that might have the biggest effect on valley residents are in Avon. One, the so-called "West Avon" parcel, is more than 470 acres just to the west of town. The other, "East Avon," is just north and east of the Post Boulevard interchange with Interstate 70.The West Avon piece is envisioned as open space now, but it's been seen in the past as a possible location for "work-force housing," as well as more expensive homes. The parcel on the east end of Avon could provide more open space, as well as direct access to future development at the Village at Avon.

While both parcels are currently public land, that's no guarantee they'll remain open space.Eagle County Open Space Coordinator Toby Sprunk said those parcels are called "inholdings," pieces of public land surrounded by private property. The U.S. Forest Service doesn't particularly want parcels like that, given that they're hard to manage and not attached to other public lands.Those parcels are sometimes sold. Sometimes they're traded for other property that's currently surrounded by federal land. That's part of the plan for this land exchange, which includes property owned by the Colorado State Land Board. That board was created at statehood, with the federal government providing square-mile parcels all over Colorado, all of which were to be managed for the benefit of public schools. Sometimes, those parcels are used for school buildings. Part of the Homestake Peak School sits on state land. Other times, those parcels are sold, or are used for commercial building, with rent going to the land board. About a quarter of Eagle-Vail's commercial district is on State Land Board property. That piece is included in this trade, but the biggest piece in this exchange is a 640-acre parcel that sits above Edwards to the north and west of Singletree.The state parcel will be sold to Eagle County interests, which will then trade the property to the Forest Service for its property in Avon.The trade also includes the state property in Eagle-Vail. Part of the trade involves a U.S. Forest Service parcel between Dowd Junction and Minturn, which would be used for Colorado Department of Transportation facilities. Moving the transportation department's facilities would allow the state to redevelop the property in Eagle-Vail.Eagle County Commissioner Jon Stavney said that move could help revitalize the Eagle-Vail commercial area, since it's the biggest piece of property along U.S. Highway 6. In addition to the big pieces of property, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District is part of the deal and will use some small Forest Service parcels for water-storage tanks.

While the trade has more moving parts than most watches, Stavney said after years of work, all of the parcels are in place. Appraisals have been done, too, which allows all of the parties to make sure the cash and land values tally up for the swap.Having those pieces in place led Sprunk to tell the Avon Town Council that a deal was almost in place. That wasn't quite right.While the numbers and parcels seem to be in place, the U.S. Forest Service still has work to do on the 64-step checklist that accompanies any land exchange. That list still includes assuring the public that the trade complies with the National Environmental Policy Act.Stavney said the environmental review work has been done. Now, though, it must be applied to the specific parcels and the results published in the Federal Register. That step could take a few months, but Stavney said the deal could conceivably be done this year.It better be. Because of rules applying to land appraisals, if the deal isn't consummated by Nov. 10, the appraisal process starts over again.But those involved in the work believe the trade will happen."It's very exciting, not just for Avon but for the broader community," Avon Mayor Rich Carroll said.That's especially the case with the West Avon land."There are hundreds of people who use that land every day," Carroll said, adding that on a recent evening, he ran into at least 20 people on the West Avon trails."I think this represents a really, really good direction for our open space efforts," Carroll said.Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2930.


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The VailDaily Updated May 12, 2012 09:35PM Published May 12, 2012 09:32PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.