Daily Editorial: Gates Ranch fits the bill
Vail CO, Colorado
Few people want sprawling developments built within view of their homes. The open meadow you walk your dog by in the morning and the tree-dotted mountainside where you take a weekly hike are precious.
You’ve come to count on that empty lot across the street staying empty, even though there is no guarantee for it. So you look for ways to protect it, say, by taking your case to the county’s Open Space Advisory Committee. After all, isn’t this what our open-space taxes are for?
Actually, not really.
In a county where each of us has our own ideas about what makes this place really special, and what it means to be a small town ” your “ugly boat building” may just be someone else’s “great architectural statement” ” we seem to misunderstand just what makes a piece of property, in the eyes of the law, something worth saving.
Take the Gates Ranch open space deal, which already has some critics. The property is in the northern edge of Eagle County, a place most Eagle Valley dwellers today would consider the “boonies,” just as a certain mid-valley location with only a gashouse was the boonies just two decades ago.
The Gates family has no intention of up and leaving the ranch they’ve run for more than a century. Rather, they want the tax breaks that come with selling their, and anyone else’s, right to develop the property now and forever.
The family has hosted visitors in the past who want to see a working ranch. But if this deal goes through, you won’t be allowed to park your car on the property and hike across it.
So just what makes the ranch an ideal open space deal? A lot, if you ask the Eagle Valley Land Trust. To qualify for a conservation easement, the tax designation that strips a property of development rights in exchange for lower taxes, the property is evaluated on a specific set of criteria: its scenic quality; how wildlife makes use of the property; the physical and visual buffers that keeping the land undeveloped would create; access to streams, rivers, public lands, and the regional heritage of the property in regards to agriculture and ranching.
The Gates Ranch, with its 740 acres of rolling hills, offers views of The Flat Tops Wilderness. It has a lake, wetlands and several natural springs, and provides a natural home for elk, deer, bear and possibly lynx.
As for its agricultural heritage, the Gates Ranch’s is undeniable.
There have been legitimate arguments about whether the Gates Ranch is truly worth $8,000 per acre, as a recent appraisal suggests. But when looking at the legal criteria to make this transaction fly, the Gates Ranch appears to pass with flying colors.
Saving this ranch likely won’t give anyone a place to walk a dog or go on a morning jog. Most of us can’t see it from our homes and probably won’t ever see it, unless we take a drive up Colorado River Road.
Preserving open space, from a legal perspective, isn’t always about creating another place for humans to play. It is about saving a place that truly is unique enough to be special, a place like the Gates Ranch.
” Tamara Miller for the Editorial Board
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