Prosperous trade for Minturn?
When the State Land Board last month agreed to re-purchase two parcels of land for $7 million from part-time Beaver Creek resident Robert Brotman, it ended a rancorous, lawsuit-studded dispute over the two 640-acre plots that straddle Interstate 70 in Edwards.
Brotman will receive $7 million – nearly double what he paid for the two parcels in 1996 – in what some described as a “sweetheart deal” made by a “renegade State Land Board.”
Brotman announced he wanted to sell multi-million dollar, 35-acre homesites on the parcel near Arrowhead and exchange the parcel north of the interstate for additional developable property. That spawned lawsuits from adjacent property owners that were heard before the Colorado Supreme Court. The governor and director of the Department of Natural Resources eventually pulled the plug on the deal, leading to a lawsuit from Brotman.
With Brotman now out of the picture, the Land Board and U.S. Forest Service are looking to work out a trade of their own. It’s a scenario that could bode well for the future of Minturn.
The Forest Service can acquire the two Edwards parcels by giving up nearly 23 acres near Minturn that have commercial development potential of at least $7 million.
It looks like both the state and federal agencies are willing and are pursuing the exchange. It’s more likely to unfold at a federal pace because it will be contingent on other deals that have to be worked out first. That’s a typical scenario with most land swaps, exchange experts say. Most are contingent on a chain of events.
“We want to move forward with the two parcels in Arrowhead,” said John Brejcha, deputy director of the State Land Board. “We are waiting to finalize the transaction.”
Holy Cross District Ranger Cal Wettstein said he guesses the exchange may take five or more years to complete.
“It’s not imminent,” he said.
The two Forest Service parcels being eyed for exchange – 8.8 acres at Dowd Junction, where the existing Holy Cross Ranger office sits, and 14 acres south of Minturn behind the Steammaster building – are worth at least $7 million. Federal land swap rules require that the parcels being exchanged are of equal value.
Assuming the swap goes through as planned, it could be a potential bonanza for the town of Minturn. The new commercial property will more than double the existing commercial space. That’s good news for a town that has struggled with spreading its $1.2 million budget over its 1,100 residents.
The town’s 4 percent sales tax currently generates $400,000 annually, or just under 40 percent of the town’s annual revenue.
Town Planner Russ Martin said the town’s existing commercial and mixed-use property totals 25 acres. The potential commercial space being added by the swapped land will nearly double that.
Not “too big’
When compared to its bustling resort neighbors, the proposal provides now- sleepy Minturn with a double-edged sword of both opportunity and challenge.
“The trick is to find out what kind of businesses,” said Alan Lanning, Minturn’s town manager. ” A T-shirt shop won’t change the character of your town your very much but a super Wal-Mart is an entirely different issue. I’ve never gotten the feeling here that any of us want to be too big. It’s not something the town wants.”
Lanning said the money generated by the new commercial space could be used to upgrade Minturn’s aging water system, streets and sidewalks.
And from a strict business standpoint, the town could use the money, Lanning said.
“From the council’s perspective for the last few years there’s been some recognition that we need some growth to sustain ourselves,” he said. “Building retail in and of itself doesn’t help if people aren’t coming to your town. Maybe a retail development can do that. It has the potential of being a blessing if it’s done right.”
One of the issues that will slow the pace of the exchange is the announced consolidation of the Holy Cross and Eagle District offices of the Forest Service. That’s expected to take several years to accomplish because the Forest Service will need to sell some of the land it owns elsewhere to finance acquiring new land and building new offices. The new consolidated office is likely to be built in the Eagle area, Wettstein said.
Selling federal property literally requires an act of Congress, Forest Service managers say.
But it’s the flip side of the deal – the two parcels in Edwards that will be removed from potential development – that excites the Forest Service’s land swap experts.
Both parcels are prime big-game habitat that will be protected from development once the swap is concluded.
Cliff Thompson can be reached at 970-949-0555 x450 or email@example.com