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September 29, 2013
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Edwards parcel might be a tough sell

EDWARDS — It’s been a while since there’s been riverfront property for sale in Edwards. That should mean an easy sale, right?

Jesse Alberts lived in Edwards before there was much of anything there. Now, surrounded by resort suburbia, the nearly 4-acre property is for sale, but right now there are more questions than answers regarding its fate. The property has a good bit of Eagle River frontage on the south, homes on the west, a bike path on the north and Miller Ranch Road on the east. It seems to have “location, location, location” and then some. But that’s the simple part. There are plenty of complications, too.

The first is price. Alberts died in 2010 and had no direct heirs, so a group of family members controls the property. The land was put up for sale recently with a hefty price tag: $4.75 million.

That price is going to be a problem.

Eagle-based land planner and architect Steve Isom has toured the property. In his view, the land’s use is probably limited to either very expensive single-family homes or a group of townhomes. But Isom said he has a hard time envisioning how to make either of those projects profitable.

Tom Backhus, the local real estate broker trying to sell the property, is trying to make a sale, of course, but countered that single-family homes with, say, 150 feet each of Eagle River frontage could make a unique product, perhaps worth the high prices they’d have to command.

But Backhus also acknowledged that he isn’t exactly sure what might be the best use for the property, and has wondered aloud what others think might be the best way to develop the parcel.

Backhus is partial to the idea of a fishing lodge, “kind of a mini-Cabela’s,” as he put it.

“I keep brainstorming about what this could be,” Backhus said. “Should it be a hotel? Should it be townhomes? Should it be a park?”

But the park idea might be a non-starter. For one thing, there’s the daunting price.

Eagle County Open Space Coordinator Toby Sprunk said he and the county’s open space advisory committee had some preliminary discussions about putting the parcel into the county’s open space portfolio, but nothing really came of it.

Besides the price, Sprunk said that since the parcel has been used as everything from contractor storage to a working tire shop and mechanic’s garage, there’s no way to tell what kind of environmental cleanup might be required.

“There were deep concerns about environmental issues there,” Sprunk said.

Then there’s the fact that the county’s open space purchasing power has been reduced mightily over the past few years.

“We just don’t have the money right now,” Sprunk said. “We’ve closed 10 projects and have two more pending.”

There’s also a county-owned open space parcel directly east of the parcel.

Jason Denhart, of the Eagle Valley Land Trust — a separate nonprofit organization that sometimes works with the county’s open space program — expressed similar concerns about what might have been spilled or dumped on the property over the years.

“You would have a mountain of due diligence before moving forward,” Denhart said.

And ultimately, whatever happens on the parcel will in large part depend on the difference between the asking price and what the parcel finally brings when buyer and seller reach the closing table.

Asked if other developers might have other ideas for the parcel, Isom said it all comes down to cold, hard math, saying “everyone’s pencil works the same.”

Sprunk said the parcel might just have to sit for a while, noting that land values have declined — dramatically in places — over the past few years. That’s the reason county officials have spent down an open space fund that once exceeded $20 million.

“That’s also why you’re seeing parcels sitting,” Sprunk said. “This one may sit for a while.”

Backhus, as befits a man in his profession, remains optimistic.

“Something’s got to work here,” he said. “Forget the price — what should this be? What do we need?”


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The VailDaily Updated Sep 30, 2013 11:42PM Published Oct 3, 2013 03:55PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.