Local land protection troubles feds
Ryan Summerlin May 16, 2007
EAGLE COUNTY ” The county values its undeveloped public land, but protecting that land from development may make it less valuable, federal officials warn.
The Board of County Commissioners have voted to create a “resource preservation zone” in the county that will limit development on any federal land that is sold or exchanged in unincorporated Eagle County.
The new rules limit residential development to one dwelling unit per 80 acres, and would require county approval for any purpose that may hurt the scenic quality or open character of the property. The regulations affect land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
The rules only go into effect if the land is sold or exchanged, which both agencies say they usually do to raise money or to obtain land that could be better used for recreation.
Typically, those parcels that are sold or exchanged are isolated and don’t benefit the public much, said David Boyd, spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management.
“The lands we are looking at aren’t parts of someone’s favorite hiking trail,” said Sally Spaulding, White River National Forest District spokeswoman. “It’s not prime recreation land that we are trying to get rid of.”
Limiting the possibility of any future development on those parcels could make the land less valuable, and, in essence, make it more difficult or less profitable for federal agencies to sell or exchange, Spaulding said.
“It could affect our ability to make the most of the taxpayers’ dollars,” she said.
In a press release, the commissioners said the new rules were passed to preserve the “open character and public benefits of land in the county that is owned by the federal government in the event the property is sold to private parties.”
“It will help us make sure the local community has a say in how land is being developed,” Commissioner Arn Menconi said.
The Forest Service does have a few parcels in Eagle County it hopes to sell or exchange, including what’s called the Boneyard in Minturn. Minturn is trying to change the zoning on the parcel to limit development and hopes to purchase the property.
Spaulding said she didn’t think any of the parcels currently identified for sale or exchange in Eagle County would be affected by the county’s new rules.
The Bureau of Land Management doesn’t have any plans to sell or trade land in Eagle County right now, Boyd said.
The bureau is in the process of reviewing its master plan, which identifies what parcels would be OK to trade or sell.
The 1984 master plan has 5,000 acres worth of land south of Wolcott that has been identified as suitable for sell or exchange. All of those parcels are isolated and don’t border any larger parcels that are frequently used by the public, he said.
The bureau has not taken a position on the county’s regulations, Boyd said, but did send a letter to the county that mentioned their concern for federal land property values.
Maribeth Gustafson, supervisor for the White River National Forest, sent a letter to the county detailing similar concerns about land values. Gustafson also wrote that her agency questioned the authority Eagle County has to zone federally managed land.
Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 748-2936, or firstname.lastname@example.org.