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January 14, 2013
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Will Eagle County win land auction?

MINTURN, Colorado - Eagle County's open space buying may move up-valley today. But there are a lot of questions still to answer.

The county and the town of Minturn are partners in an attempt to buy a 4-acre parcel in south Minturn currently owned by the U.S. Forest Service. The parcel, known as "The Boneyard" has been marked for sale by the feds, and put up for sale. And that's where the easy part of this story ends.

The Forest Service, through the General Services Administration, has put the land up for auction. The county and town put up the required earnest money and submitted the required initial bid of $1.25 million. Then another bidder jumped in.

As of late afternoon on Jan. 14, the county/town bid was $1.510 million. County open space department director Toby Sprunk was expected to go to the Eagle County Commissioners this morning to ask in executive session for authorization to spend more money on the bid - the amount won't be revealed until the commissioners are in open session later that day.

Sort of like eBay

The announcement of the maximum bid price may come after the "official" close of bidding at 1 p.m. But that might not be the end of the very eBay-like auction.

Kevin Warner, the "conveyance program manager" for the White River National Forest, said if a bid comes in late, the other bidder will have 24 hours to submit another bid. The process is going to have local officials with the auction website locked into their computer screens and smart phones to track the progress.

"I've never been part of such an odd situation," Sprunk said.

Further complicating the potential sale is the fact that the feds might not accept the winning bid.

Warner said that final bid will be evaluated by an appraiser, who will determine whether or not the winning bid is sufficient to allow the Forest Service to sell. If the appraiser's report checks the "go ahead and sell it" box, Forest Service officials still have to give the final OK to make the deal.

If the town and county end up winning the auction, money for the deal will come from a couple of sources. The county will use money from its open space fund to pay 90 percent of the final sale price. The town will pay the remainder with money from an escrow fund established by the original developers of the proposed Battle Mountain resort. That money, freed up last year, has been slated for use for open space and recreation, a scholarship fund and improvements to the town's water system.

Acquiring the property would be a bid win for the county's open space program, Sprunk said. It would be the first use of county open space money for property in the upper valley.

Just right for Minturn

"It's not a 1,000-acre ranch along the Colorado River or a boat launch, but it's (Minturn's) top priority," Sprunk said, adding that open space deals in the upper valley are tough to pull off because there aren't many parcels available, and the price of that property is still pretty steep.

While this part of the story is fairly complicated, it may become still more complex if the county and town don't submit the winning bid.

The identity of the second bidder for the land isn't known, but if that bidder wins the auction, he or she might have a hard time doing much of anything with it.

Minturn Town Manager Jim White said the land isn't currently zoned - that is, designated for specific uses - because the property is owned by the federal government. But, White said, the town's most recent comprehensive plan recommends zoning the property for park and open space uses if the feds ever sell the parcel.

If a private buyer acquires the land, he or she would have to apply for zoning, and getting anything that allows development could be difficult.

"We've got other land in town zoning for development that might be more appropriate," White said.

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Jan 14, 2013 07:54PM Published Jan 14, 2013 07:52PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.