Vail Daily’s View: All good but price of preserving Colorado River Ranch | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily’s View: All good but price of preserving Colorado River Ranch

Vail Daily Editorial Board
Vail, CO, Colorado
newsroom@vaildaily.com

In a time when property appraisals do not match today’s reality, the Eagle County commissioners have an interesting decision to make.

The Colorado River Ranch, once approved for a golf course community, meets the criteria for protection as open space.

That much is fairly clear, unless of course you disagree with the concept and/or the criteria established by the voters for deciding what to spend county open space funds to help protect. And there are plenty of opponents of the program that the county’s voters passed by a whisker.

The 1,017-acre property fronting the Colorado River has the vistas, wildlife, Western heritage, waterways and public access to pass muster.

Indeed, the open space advisory committee unanimously recommended the county commissioners approve contributing $5.7 million out of the open space fund toward buying the development rights to the land, and thereby preserving it.

The owners would contribute $1 million to the venture, leaving about $1.25 million to be raised for a conservation easement.

The Board of Commissioners approved the land for a development during the Michael Gallagher, Arn Menconi and Tom Stone era. The approval eventually elapsed without action, the land was sold a couple of times, and the current owners had been aiming to develop the property.

They bought the land in 2007 for $10 million, and it is appraised today for $13.25 million. Say what?

Ranches across Colorado are going for 25-30 percent less than the sale price right now, whatever an appraisal based on sales during still-boom times shows. It’s the same quandary that sent property tax assessments soaring this year when it’s clear no one’s place has increased in value in today’s market. Far from it.

Looking at the Adams Rib golf course community up Brush Creek Road and Brightwater south of Gypsum, it’s also clear there won’t be any successful golf course (or other large) developments for some time.

Given the business realities today, does anyone believe the ranch would sell on the open market for anywhere close to $13.25 million? For$10 million?

Advocates argue that the development pressure remains strong in the long term, as evidenced by the previous plans to build there.

The open space fund is flush, and being prudent now may result in the county losing its opportunity to spare the land from being developed.

Perhaps. And maybe future development there could be done in a way that clusters homes in one area and preserves the rest without having to dip into the open space account.

These are always difficult decisions. It’s clear enough, though, that if the chances the land would sell at $13.25 million are about nil, then basing the county share off that simply does not make a lot of sense.

The calculation today should come off $10 million, a more than fair price on the open market today.

It’s not the county’s job, after all, to protect the current owners from the vicissitudes of investing during a real estate bubble that plainly has burst.

The county should contribute at a fair price to preserve the land. But this ain’t it.

As prudent stewards of the public’s funds, the commissioners need to say thanks, but no thanks, to the terms.

Vail Daily Editorial Board