Letters to the editor

Sherwood Stockwell

1) Saving Bair Ranch from massive development was and is a good idea.2) This was first considered as a “private” project by the Eagle Valley Land Trust, but the EVLT could not raise the money by itself and looked for other sources.3) The Eagle County Open Space Fund looked like a great source. Up to this point, no one had thought seriously about where or how the funds should be spent. 4) Part of the Bair Ranch (in Garfield, not Eagle County, I believe) provides a key visual experience as one goes through Glenwood Canyon. The bulk of the ranch, however, cannot be seen from the freeway. 5) Many in Eagle rightly question this use of county funds, feeling they should be more fairly applied toward property like the B&B quarry or the Wolcott valley lands that are actually in Eagle County. 6) If Eagle County votes to spend $2 million to secure the conservation easement, the visual impact area will be saved, but the rest of the ranch will be used to graze 5,000 or more sheep, run a dude ranch and serve as a private homestead.7) Those that support the easement are environmentally and emotionally correct. But they, not by choice, have had to take the issue out of the private sector and stumbled into the political arena. They are now facing some real and logical opposition.Are there other ways out of this mess? Let’s face it, what is really important to the majority is to save the visual impact? Why not purchase an easement for just that part? This could pay off the other Mr. Bair. Or, the applicable county could agree that, if the ranch or any part of it was sold to a developer, the visual impact area had to remain as open space. In either case, much of the land, because of geography and the adjacent federal lands, could remain for grazing.The concept seems to be to “keep the ranch boundaries intact” when these boundaries were arbitrarily carved out in the first place, irrespective of the geography. As an Eagle County resident, I support the desire to see Eagle County tax funds spent where they will be most effective within the county. I also support the concept of saving the visual impact area of Bair Ranch, preferably with private or federal funds. After all the feds have spent to date doing a great job on the canyon I-70 route, a few more dollars to preserve views seems appropriate.There is a reality to face, here, and that is the limited amount of land geographically and privately available for development in an area that is going to be pressured for growth no matter how much we want to resist it. That development can and should be subject to reasonable demands vis-a-vis the environment, and this usually means compromises. In this case it is probably Mr. Bair that would have to make some compromises. But if his goals could be to keep the visual corridor open and still run the balance of his ranch as he wants to, a compromise would benefit everyone. Sherwood StockwellWolcottWe pay either wayCounty taxpayers will pay for Bair Ranch one way or another! Development of the property will eventually cost taxpayers more than the $2 million from the Open Space Fund that it will take to complete the conservation easement deal. So, in addition to all of the conversation values and arguments that have been extensively publicized, there is a real payback to all of us who pay the open space mill levy along with our other property taxes. Here is “how and why” of this perhaps surprising reality:Many reliable and creditable studies have been done across the U.S. to determine the total cost of governmental services and the taxes generated for different types of residential development. These studies show that new residential development costs more than the taxes that it generates. The deficit has to be spread across the “old development” in the community. Existing taxpayers pick up the incremental burden through increased taxes. And this is true even if the taxing entities are rigorous and complete in their demands for “exactions” so that initial costs of infrastructure are provided by developers and the new residents. Some school districts in eastern states are purchasing open land to prevent development, the subsequent increase in student numbers and the cost associated with educating them. These conclusions are not too surprising when we think about the history of taxes in the places that we have lived.Perhaps very surprising is that the same findings are true in rural developments. A year ago Colorado State University Cooperative Extension published a joint study with the University of Wyoming that showed that even very low-density development creates a financial burden greater that the tax revenues generated. The study, “Rural Land Uses and Your Taxes: The Fiscal Impact of Rural residential development in Colorado,” tumbled the numbers for 62 of 63 Colorado counties. Only the county of Denver was excluded because it had no applicable land and development to analyze. The study concluded at on-average rural 35-acre “use by right” development costs $1.65 in public services for every $1 in total taxes collected by the municipalities, school districts and special purpose districts. Eagle County taxing entities were estimated to spend $1.24 for every dollar collected. Bair Ranch can be analyzed using the findings of this study and the appraisal report prepared for the proposed conservation easement deal. Large tracts of land, like the Bair Ranch, can be development in a comparatively straight-forward means by dividing them into individual parcels of 35 acres or more. State law considers this a “use by right” of the owner and relatively little influence can be applied to the development by the host county. So we have to conclude that this type of development could be done. The appraisal makes several important observations: excluding the BLM purchase parcel along the Colorado River, 4,218 acres are involved in Eagle and Garfield Counties; 1,217 acres of this have slopes of 30 degrees or more which will preclude most development; 65 percent of the ranch is in Eagle County. Applying these facts along with some reasonable assumptions about build-out, somewhere between 55 and 65 home sites could be developed. Using 60 sites and a total land and home cost of a high-end community of $3 million each and current tax rates, the development would cost taxpayers about $213,000 more per year than the taxes collected. It would take only nine and half years to pay back the $2 million investment that is the county’s portion of the easement purchase.As chair of the Eagle County Citizens Open Space Advisory Committee, I am confident that the work of the committee was thorough and accurate and that the Bair Ranch more than makes sense to preserve. Yes, it is not a perfect deal but as the saying goes, “Let not the perfect be the enemy of the good.” We should do this deal for all of the good and valid reasons exhaustively reported and debated. To all of these reasons I add that it makes financial sense. If we fail to support our partners with our share and the deal fails, we taxpayers will pay a price in the future in both dollars and lost natural beauty.Ron WolfeAvon

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