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Development unlikely on Eagle ranch

Allen Best
Courtsey/Black Bear Real Estate The 10,300 acre ranch sold last week for $23 million.
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Do not expect the Castle Peak Ranch to be subdivided. Do not expect intense development. But do expect continued ranching much as it has been conducted in recent years.

That’s the projection of several real estate brokers involved with the sale of Jessica Catto’s 10,300-acre ranch north of Eagle to London-based investment banker Peter Weinberger. The sale of the ranch for $23 million, announced last week, was the fifth-largest ever real estate transaction in Eagle County.

“I feel very confident in telling you that absent a number of earth-shaking events in the buyer’s life that the ranch is not going to be subdivided or by any stretch of the imagination intensely developed,” said Aspen Real Estate’s Mike Cooper, which co-listed the property along with Joan Harned of Eagle-based Black Bear Real Estate.

“The people of the Eagle Valley will be glad to have him as a steward of the property, I can assure you,” added Cooper. Weinberger himself could not be reached for comment.

Dick Kessler, a ranch broker for Slifer, Smith & Frampton, projects a similar future. “It will be a one-family ranch,” says Kessler, who has met Weinberger. “It won’t be a group. It won’t be a development play.”

John Pierce, the broker representing the buyer, similarly suggested “intentions of the purchaser to preserve the agricultural and rural nature of the property,” but went a step further.

“He has indicated an interest and willingness to meet with conservation organizations, but no specific plans for the property have been divulged to me,” said Pierce, who does business from the Jackson Hole, Wyo., office of Hall and Hall, the largest ranch brokerage firm in the Rocky Mountains.

Russell Kemp, the Denver-based attorney representing the buyer, said he had no comment from the buyer regarding his plans for the ranch, nor is there any reason to expect any announcement will be made.

This of course, does not say that the ranch will never be subdivided into, say, 500-acre ranches, each with its own 10,000- or 20,000-square-foot home. Instructive is the case near Kremmling, where a large ranch assembled of smaller ranches by Westinghouse scion Dan Ritchey remained as a single-owner working ranch for about 20 years, but was eventually sold for its development potential. The revenue was donated by Ritchey to the University of Denver, where he is the chancellor.

Ironically, those new mini-ranches carved from the Ritchey property are about the same size as ranches were when they were homesteaded 120 years ago.

Likewise, the holdings of Magnus Lindholm in Eagle County are the assembled ranches of several dozen ranches accumulated over the years by his predecessor, J. Perry Olsen. Lindholm’s Piney River Ranches, located in the Wolcott-State Bridge area, is the largest ranch in Eagle County. Asked in the mid-1990s whether he would put a conservation easement on his ranch, Lindholm said “no” – not because he intended to develop, but because he did not want to restrict the options of his heirs.

During the 12 years that Catto owned the ranch, it was used in tandem with the Eagle Ranch, then a rural pasturage located south of Eagle. The Eagle Ranch was used in summer to grow hay and during winter as pasture for cows. In spring the cows and their calves were trailed through Eagle and up Eby Creek to graze on the Castle Peak Ranch.

East West Partners took an option on the lower ranch in 1994 and closed in 1997, when the annual cattle drive through Eagle ended.

But the Castle Peak Ranch also supports large herds of deer, elk and other wildlife, and during her ownership Catto agreed to have fences dismantled in order to better accommodate the migration of deer and particularly elk herds.

At the same time, Catto did very little building there are just three houses on the property, one slightly larger than 3,000 square feet, and the other two 2,500 square feet or less. Various brokers contacted indicate some building may be expected.

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SIDEBAR: Helicopters used to sell ranch

When selling a ranch based on its beauty, a real estate agent necessarily goes about it a little differently than if selling it for bovine production.

In the case of the Castle Peak ranch, a color brochure and television advertising were obvious. But the co-listing agencies, Black Bear Real Estate and Aspen Real Estate, also got more innovative.

The firms enlisted a helicopter to show the expanse of the 10,300-acre ranch. The ranch begins about five miles north of the Eagle highway interchange and extends up the side of Castle Peak until abutting Bureau of Land Management lands.

It was, says listing agent Joan Harned, the first time she has used a helicopter to show property, although she has used light planes before. She showed the property along with sales associate Barbara Hogoboom.

This is the second or third largest ranch sold in Eagle County. The largest sale was for 24,000 acres sold to Piney Ranches Trust, directed by Magnus Lindholm. That was in the early 1990s. That property comprised most of the holdings of J. Perry Olsen before his death in 1989.

Of roughly the same size – about 10,000 acres – was the Benton Ranch, located in Burns Hole, including Derby Mesa. The bulk of that land was sold to Bill Nottingham, who had in turn sold Lindholm about 1,700 acres of land between Avon and Vail.

– Allen Best

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