Vail Daily editorial: Can this swap work?
February 9, 2016
The town of Minturn is one of the oldest in the valley. But as the rest of Eagle County has grown, Minturn has stayed small, due in large part to being surrounded by U.S. Forest Service property.
That situation might change at some point in the next several years, thanks to a new proposal by Crave Community Co. That's the new name for the company now charged with developing Battle Mountain, property that's been owned by the same firm since the days before Florida-based developer Bobby Ginn first proposed an over-ambitious resort plan on the land.
Crave is proposing a roughly acre-for-acre exchange of Battle Mountain for Meadow Mountain and surrounding property. As proposed, the U.S. Forest Service would acquire about 5,000 acres of what's now private property between Minturn and Red Cliff, with Crave acquiring a piece of now-public land that runs from roughly the south end of Minturn to the hillside on the south side of Eagle-Vail.
That exchange would provide Crave the opportunity to develop a range of housing, from entry-level and appreciation-capped homes to more expensive houses. The resort idea is gone, buried in the wreckage of the economic bust of 2008.
The key selling point, at least right now, is to bring Meadow Mountain near and above Dowd Junction into the town of Minturn, then permanently protect that property for recreation.
This is bound to be controversial. In June, Crave floated a similar proposal, but one that envisioned some limited development on Meadow Mountain. The public outcry was swift and loud enough that the Forest Service refused to review the proposal. The current proposal forever removes Meadow Mountain from the possibility of being developed.
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It's still very early in the process. Land exchanges can take years, and the town of Minturn will be asked to support the proposal, something a future Minturn Town Council could ultimately reverse.
Even in these early stages, though, parts of the idea look like they might be attractive.
Start with Meadow Mountain. People familiar with the process know that the idea of living next to public land is no guarantee that land will remain open. The right exchange proposal could turn public land into private at any time. This proposal would put Meadow Mountain under local control and contractually prohibit any future development there.
Then there's the idea that Minturn, finally, can grow. There's very little commercial development in this early proposal. That should be a concern town officials. On the other hand, more homes in town could add to the town's year-round customer base, making those businesses less dependent on tourist business from Vail and Beaver Creek.
Given the right mix of entry-level and upper-end homes — a mix that's far from settled — Minturn might have an opportunity to see some healthy growth.
This proposal will almost certainly find some in town who are unalterably opposed to any idea Crave proposes. But the idea deserves thoughtful examination from the Forest Service, town officials and residents. It will be interesting to see what develops.