$470K would conserve Edwards land, not buy it | VailDaily.com

$470K would conserve Edwards land, not buy it

EDWARDS, Colorado – Money from Homestead and Creamery Gulch would preserve land in their neighborhood, but not buy it.

The Eagle Valley Land Trust is asking the two Edwards communities to come up with $470,000, part of a $3.25 million deal to buy 160 acres that borders both Homestead and Creamery. That money – $70,000 and $400,000 from Creamery – would buy three conservation easements: One on the 160 acres, an L-shaped parcel that runs into Homestead; one on Homestead’s 400 acres of open space; and one on Creamery’s open space.

The $3.25 million would come largely from the county’s tax-supported open space fund. The county commissioners have said open space money will not be used to fund conservation easements.

“The county has made it clear that the money they are willing to spend will only go toward the purchase price,” said Kara Heide, executive director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust.

The three conservation easements would cost about $150,000 each, Heide said.

“Creamery and Homestead both border the L, so both communities would benefit having the L saved in conservation,” Heide said.

The Land Trust is going directly to homeowners, instead of asking the homeowners association for the entire amount, said Bobby Larch, president of the board of directors of Homestead’s homeowners association.

It’ll come to about $70 per property in Homestead, Heide said.

Homestead and Creamery Gulch residents have long used the L for things like hiking and dog walking. Technically, they’re trespassing and it’s illegal, Heide said. A conservation easement would change that, she said.

The county and Forest Service also want a trail easement through Homestead’s open space, to compete a trail through the national forest above Homestead, along with public access and a small parking area.

Like all real estate transactions, a conservation easement comes with some one-time expenses, Heide said, things like an inspection, title review, appraisal, recording fees, closing costs … the list goes on and on.

The federal government get involved with a conservation easement, so the list gets much longer and complex.

The feds require an environment assessment, a baseline study, along with things like a mineral report to determine what’s under the land they’re conserving things like oil, natural gas, coal and even hot water for geothermal heating.

All conservation easements are customized and can allow a number of things to happen – trails, picnic areas, even the occasional buildings for farming or horses, said Cliff Simonton with the county’s planning department.

“It just takes a little bit of planning. That’s the sort of thing you work out in the beginning.” Simonton said.

The county has been on both sides of this argument.

In Miller Ranch, near Berry Creek Middle School, there’s a triangle-shaped open space parcel. To make it anything else, two-thirds of Miller Ranch owners would have had to approve it, then it would have had to win a countywide vote, then it would have to get through the county’s planning and approval process.

“And that still wasn’t enough for some of the adjacent homeowners. We were still pressured to put it under a conservation easement,” Simonton said.

And that’s what they did.

For Homestead to sell its 400 acres of open space would require approval from two-thirds of Homestead’s 850 property owners.

But because those 400 acres would not be sold, Homestead’s seven-member board of directors will make the decision.

Their decision is due today.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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