Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

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May 4, 2013
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Old Snowmass property sold for $8.5 million

The Old Snowmass property once purchased by John Denver to serve as home to his Windstar Foundation sold Monday for $8.5 million, according to a deed recorded with Pitkin County.

Rocky Mountain Institute and the Windstar Land Conservancy sold the 957-acre property to Five Valley Farm LLC. The vast majority of the land has a conservation easement on it. That means 927 acres cannot be developed. It can only be used for agricultural purposes or retained as wildlife habitat. The remaining 30 acres, where the institute has an office building, could be redeveloped with a single-family home, according to Pitkin County officials. Rocky Mountain Institute is a nonprofit organization focused on energy efficiency and sustainability.

The sale price was $5 million less than the $13.5 million asking price sought when the property was listed in September.

The Pitkin County Trails and Open Space program and Aspen Valley Land Trust jointly hold the conservation easement. The easement grants the public the right to use the land, which includes popular hiking and equestrian trails.

“RMI has leased back a portion of the property for a couple of years,” said Herb Klein, an Aspen attorney who represented the buyer. He said the lease back to the institute for an office means there would not be any operational change at the property for at least two years. There will be “more attention to upkeep” of the agricultural lands and wildlife habitat, he said.

Klein wouldn’t identify the person or parties involved in Five Valley Farm. In its registration with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, the limited liability corporation’s business address is listed as 2317 Snowmass Creek Road, the same as the Windstar site. The registered agent for the corporation is a Denver law firm.

Klein said he was “glad” the transaction was completed and that the property “is in good hands.”

But a neighbor of the Windstar land said he believes the institute and the Windstar Land Conservation did a disservice to the public and John Denver’s legacy by selling the land. Kevin Ward, who lives adjacent to the site, said he is trying to prove the title is “clouded” and that a sale was prohibited.

Ward’s source of information is a letter written by Hunter Lovins, cofounder of the institute and ex-wife of Amory Lovins, the institute’s chief scientist and chairman. She wrote to Pitkin County Trails and Open Space Director Dale Will on April 28 contending that the sale of the Windstar land violated the intent of the 1996 purchase and allegedly was prohibited by the conservation easement agreement with Pitkin County.

“RMI accepted money from Great Outdoors Colorado, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and a wide array of other donors to purchase a half ownership share of the Windstar land on condition that it take that share and together with the Windstar Foundation put 100 percent of the ownership of the land into a land conservancy established for the purpose of placing a conservation easement on the land to keep it forever wild, and public accessible,” Hunter Lovins wrote in her letter.

Lovins, a former CEO for strategy with the institute, said the agreement with Pitkin County required the institute and the Windstar Land Conservancy to turn the property over to the other entity if they were unable to honor their “obligations to take care of the land.” If both faltered in their responsibility, the land was to be turned over to Pitkin County, she said.

“Under no circumstances was it envisioned that either party could sell their ownership in the land. This was prohibited under the deal that was signed with Pitkin County,” Lovins wrote in her letter.

Rocky Mountain Institute Executive Director Marty Pickett was traveling Wednesday and couldn’t be reached for comment via email.

Ward said he sent Lovins’ letter to the Pitkin County commissioners this week and will attend a meeting of the open space program’s board of directors today to read the letter into the record.

His goal is to get them to nullify the sale. The land couldn’t be sold if the institute and the Windstar Land Conservancy didn’t have the right to sell it, he said.

Ward said he is still trying to confirm documents exist that say the sale is prohibited. He delayed doing that work, he said, because he felt county officials would know whether or not a sale was allowed.

The sale is the latest chapter in a convoluted history of the stunning property. Denver envisioned it as headquarters for the Windstar Foundation, which he founded in 1976. The foundation strived for positive changes on a global scale and in the Roaring Fork Valley. The foundation was particularly focused on environmental issues.

Denver sold the property to the National Wildlife Federation but the institute and the Windstar Foundation reacquired it in 1996. Pitkin County contributed funds to help with the purchase in return for the conservation easement.

The institute and the Windstar Foundation created the Windstar Land Conservancy in 1996 to own and manage the property. The institute failed in 2004 to get a plan approved by Pitkin County for an office building and employee housing at the Windstar site. Now it plans to build a state-of-the-art facility in Basalt. It will receive roughly half the proceeds from the sale of the Windstar land to help build its office.

At least one issue connected to public access to the Windstar property remains unresolved. The public currently can use the gravel parking lot shared with the institute’s office. The parking lot is located on the 30 acres that don’t include a conservation easement. After the nonprofit vacates the site in two years, the new owner wouldn’t have to provide parking. The public would have access to 927 acres but no place to park.

Will said in an earlier interview that institute officials were unwilling to resolve the parking issue prior to the sale. Klein said he couldn’t speak on behalf of the buyers regarding the long-term parking issue.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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