Minturn, valley officials hope to make a deal for U.S. Forest Service property
How this works
The U.S. Forest Service doesn’t usually sell land. Instead, the agency will exchange parcels of equivalent value. But the land where the Forest Service’s Dowd Junction office sits is classified as an “administrative” site, and those can be sold — after meeting public comment and environmental assessment requirements.
MINTURN — In the U.S. Forest Service, progress can sometimes be measured at the pace of an old-growth forest. Still, change can come.
Town of Minturn officials have long eyed the Forest Service’s office property at Dowd Junction — 13 acres on the valley floor — for community uses. The property is available — perhaps — in a straight purchase. Since the property is classified as an administrative site, disposing of the property won’t require an exchange for property of similar value.
But even that relatively easy process isn’t easy.
The biggest issue for the Forest Service is whether or not the agency can buy a complete but never-used building on Chambers Avenue in Eagle. The Forest Service has expressed interest and is having a fresh appraisal done on the building. The building’s owner would then have to agree to sell the building for the appraised price.
If that happens — and that remains a significant “if” — then the Forest Service could consolidate its offices for the Holy Cross and Eagle ranger districts. Those districts were consolidated years ago, but the Forest Service still maintains the district offices.
If the Dowd Junction site can be sold — following a public comment period and evaluation under the National Environmental Policy Act — the town of Minturn is a very interested buyer.
Minturn Mayor Matt Scherr said the town would need to partner with a private developer on the deal.
Adding commercial space
The town’s main interest is adding to its commercial base. Towns in Colorado require sales tax revenue to thrive — which is why Vail is the valley’s economic juggernaut. Minturn’s sales tax base is limited and needs to expand.
Scherr said having 13 acres right at an interstate exit could serve a number of community interests, from retail to housing to transportation. Scherr said Minturn’s control of the property would also ensure continued access to the Eagle River and Meadow Mountain.
Minturn town planner Janet Hawkinson said the Forest Service property was annexed into the town in 1972. But the town can’t put zoning on the property until an entity besides the federal government owns it.
If the property does become available, then local officials would hold public meetings to help determine just what should be on the property. Town officials already have rejected the prospect of a gas station. Ideas at the moment include perhaps a natural or specialty grocery store and similar uses.
Hawkinson said those community meetings would also help shape river access and how the site can be best used for parking and transportation.
The valley’s town managers and mayors, along with county officials, meet quarterly.
Eagle and Holy Cross District Ranger Aaron Mayville met with that group at its most recent meeting to talk about the Dowd Junction site. Mayville said he updated the group about progress on consolidating operations in Eagle and options if the deal doesn’t happen.
Mayville said there seems to be a good bit of regional support for the idea of Minturn acquiring the Dowd Junction site.
On the other hand, the Forest Service needs a Plan B.
Mayville said the Forest Service has been working for years on ideas for consolidating operations between the two ranger districts. Consolidation would save money in the agency’s ever-shrinking budgets for other needs.
Something will happen
If the Forest Service can’t make a deal for the building in Eagle, then Mayville said the two districts will probably consolidate into the Dowd Junction location.
“It’s been 14 years of going back and forth,” Mayville said. “Eventually, and probably pretty soon, we have to make a move.”
If the Forest Service stays at Dowd Junction, then Mayville said the agency would continue to work with local governments on use of the site. There’s already a bus stop on the property, as well as parking for transit passengers.
No matter what happens with Dowd Junction, there’s another administrative parcel in Minturn, on the south end of town.
That site, on the west side of U.S. Highway 24, is currently used for housing. Hawkinson said that site could be used for deed-restricted workforce housing. The town would welcome those new residents, she said.
But that potential deal is even farther in the future than the possible sale of the Dowd Junction property.
Following the most recent mayors and managers meeting, Mayville said he’s “hopeful we can come to a way to get this done.”
But it’s going to take some time.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.