Big Eagle County open space decision delayed
Eagle County, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – County commissioners delayed a decision Tuesday on whether to spend millions of dollars on a conservation easement to block the Colorado River Ranch from development.
The board heard hours of input on the proposed deal from county staff, officials from the Eagle Valley Land Trust, the owners of the ranch and members of the public, but decided to delay the decision because Commissioner Jon Stavney wasn’t there.
Commissioners Sara Fisher said Stavney’s absence was unexplained and that she hadn’t talked to him.
“We do want Jon to be able to weigh in,” Fisher said.
The hearing will continue at 1:30 p.m., Monday.
The Eagle Valley Land Trust wants to preserve the 1,000-acre working ranch 12 miles north of Dotsero using a conservation easement. The land is valued at $13.2 million. Without development rights the land is worth $5.3 million, according to the most recent appraisal of the property. The difference of $7.9 million is the cost of the easement.
The property owners agreed to contribute $1 million towards the deal. The land trust requested the county kick in $5.7 million and agreed to make up the rest.
Fisher and Commissioner Runyon were concerned about the price.
“I think the price tag is a little too high,” Fisher said.
The $5.7 million request accounts for 72 percent of the easement price. Runyon suggested, as one option, funding 60 percent of the easement might be a better split for the county.
“It’s a great piece of property and a great opportunity,” Runyon said. “I am greedy. I’m greedy for money in the open space fund so that we can buy even more. If a project like this comes along and we can put up 60 percent and get 40 percent that’s a win for everybody. It becomes more of a community project.”
Several community members spoke in favor of the project.
“Conservation easements aren’t going to get cheaper,” said Don Zelkind. “Look at what the county is getting back. I think you’re getting a double, triple or quadruple whammy by purchasing this easement.”
The deal includes multiple public access spots on the property. A 2-acre parking lot would be put on the northern portion of the ranch to make it easier to access nearby Bureau of Land Management land. Another small parking area would be built near the southern tip of the land, allowing people to get to the Colorado River.
The owners also are working with the Eagle County Historical Society to preserve an old wooden schoolhouse on the ranch. The building could be used as an educational tool and would be accessible to the public.
Tom Steinberg told the commissioners to take the long-term view of the deal.
“Don’t get too upset that the economy is down and maybe the price is down,” Steinberg said. “Do not, under any circumstance, let this parcel go anywhere but into open space. Don’t screw up and lose this one.”
Former commissioner Arn Menconi said he would be in favor of the project if the price tag was $3.5 or $4 million and that the board shouldn’t be in a hurry to get a deal done.
“I don’t think there’s the pressure of growth that has existed over the last 10 to 15 years in the county,” Menconi said. “My fear is that this money will be spent on properties too quickly that could be spent on lands along the valley floor.”
Greg Powell, who was part of the appraisal process, spoke at the hearing. The appraised value of the ranch has been questioned by members of the public and some members of the county’s open space advisory committee.
The appraised value is based on sales of similar pieces of property not speculation over the economy, Powell said.
“We cannot deal in uncertainties, we don’t have the liberty of doing that,” he said. “In appraisal work we’re pretty much bound by completed sales.”
The board could vote to approve or deny the proposal Monday.
Staff Writer Chris Outcalt can be reached at 970-748-2931 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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