Land swap moving ahead slowly |

Land swap moving ahead slowly

Christine Ina Casillas

A land swap aimed at saving hundreds of acres of open space nearly hinged on how much traffic would be created from the proposed housing project in Avon.

The Avon Town Council, however, made a motion Tuesday to allow the land swap deal to move forward, providing adequate traffic studies show there will be no bottleneck on Nottingham Road.

“We have open space,” said a visibly relieved Cindy Cohagen, director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust.

The exchange, which has been in the works since 1990, allows the U.S. Forest Service to conserve 500 acres of Brush Creek wetlands known as Vassar Meadows, south of Eagle. The other major parcel – a 480-acre piece of land just above Interstate 70 west of Avon – has caused some turmoil.

The U.S. Forest Service wanted to give the land to Vail Resorts, which plans to build homes on about 40 acres and leave the rest empty.

“What if this doesn’t go through?” asked Brian Sipes, Avon town councilman.

“The exchange would fail,” said Ruth Borne, director of planning development for Avon. “And a different land exchange would go through, and we wouldn’t be able to preserve this land as open space.”

The U.S. Forest Service is prone to exchange the property to a private individual, added Steve Rinella, a real estate program director with the U.S. Forest Service.

“There would be another land exchange waiting to happen,” Rinella said.

Less density

Avon endorsed the swap three years ago, but Vail Resorts sparked tensions among town leaders by changing the kinds of homes it wants to build there.

The company had intended to build employee housing on the site, but as the demographics of the community evolved and other housing projects came online, the ski company indicated it would sell its portion to ASW Realty Partners, a developer working on the Berry Creek/Miller Ranch project in Edwards.

ASW has proposed to use the site for affordable housing, which would result in less density. The new concept is for ASW to build about 250 studios, duplexes and single-family homes, all of which would be for sale.

Tensions arose with town officials because of more traffic on Nottingham Road, which would be the main entrance to the proposed development.

“No one has filed anything yet,” said Jim Mandel, a senior vice president of Vail Resorts. “But this land is going to get developed. It’s a matter of by who and how. A lot of alternatives can happen to it.”

Yet the council came to a conclusion that there was “something in the traffic study that was wrong,” Sipes said.

Pushed to capacity

Avon Town Councilman Mac McDevitt said the traffic impacts would “affect the quality of life for everyone up here (in Wildridge).”

Council members fear that Nottingham Road would be pushed to its traffic-carrying capacity.

“There are two positives to this,” said Ron Wolfe, Avon town councilman. “We have open space and attainable housing. But the traffic is going to be paralytic when the town can manage what gets put on that lower parcel.”

For more than two hours, the council deliberated on the traffic impacts of the land exchange.

“If there’s going to be something built (on that property), there’s going to be traffic anyway,” said Kim Burns, a Wildridge resident. “I don’t understand what the big deal is with all the traffic discussions.”

Financial commitments

However, another piece to the land exchange includes financial commitments.

The Eagle Valley Land Trust will hold the conservation easement on the parcel and has raised $153,000 of private funds to that purpose.

The appraised value of the land is at about $5 million.

“The conservation easement will be designated when the transaction closes, preserving the land as open space forever,” Cohagen said. “Another entity will hold the property in a safe deposit box of sorts until then.”

The remaining financial commitments fall to Vail Resorts for $3.4 million, the Forest Service for $556,520 and Avon for $300,000.

The 2003 budget for Avon does not include the $300,000 for the land exchange.

“At closing, this is a funding package with multiple people tossing in a pot of money,” said Tom Macy with the Conservation Fund. “If we act quickly, this project will not disappear. And we’re getting a discount on the purchase price, as well as the protection of deer, elk, sensitive plants and vegetation, walking areas, paths and housing.”

Brush Creek-Vassar Meadows Acquisition

The Brush Creek-Vassar Meadows acquisition sits on 1,782 acres near Eagle on West Brush Creek. The total sales price of the property is $14.3 million. The following is a run-down of the costs:

– $5.3 million from Great Outdoors Colorado.

– $3 million from Colorado State Parks.

– $1.5 million from Eagle County.

– $500, 000 million from Eagle.

– $4 million from the Conservation Fund, which is secured by 509 acres of Vassar Meadows with an appraised value of $7.1 million, with a $2 million loan from Vail Resorts to secure 325 acres of Vassar Meadows.

Vassar Meadows-Avon Land Trade

The Conservation Fund has agreed to put part of Vassar Meadows into a land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service. A portion of the property will be exchanged for 485 acres of federal land worth an estimated $5.41 million, as follows:

– 478 acres in Avon, appraised value of $5 million.

– 5.9 acres at Sonnenalp practice tee, appraised value of $300,000.

– 0.5 acres near the Upper Eagle River water tank, appraised value of $70,000.

– 0.8 acres at the Norrie property, appraised value of $40,000.

Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at

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