Will land exchange cross the goal line? | VailDaily.com

Will land exchange cross the goal line?

EAGLE COUNTY – A deal is never done until the last document is signed, but Avon Mayor Rich Carroll would bet a buck that a land exchange begun in 2004 will get finished this year.

The swap, called the Eagle Valley Land Exchange, involves five local, state and federal agencies, trades around 10 parcels between the various agencies and includes more than $7 million in cash to make all the values balance out.

Earlier this year, Eagle County Open Space Director Toby Sprunk called the deal the most complex he’s ever seen. And the deal has taken years to complete. Now, it looks as if the final documents could be signed in November.

If that doesn’t happen, the process has to start over again because the appraisals on some parcels will have expired, and federal regulations will require new valuations on some parcels.

Getting some appraisals done took some time because of the parcels’ remote location and the weather.

“We had to wait for the snow to clear on a couple of parcels,” said Eagle County planner Kris Valdez, who’s been working on the deal the past four years.

The deal took a big step forward Monday, when the Eagle County Open Space Advisory Committee sent a recommendation to the county commissioners for full funding of the deal – about $5.3 million from the county’s open space fund.

That recommendation has no force of law, but does carry weight. The commissioners will take up the funding request before the November deadline.

The Avon Town Council will also consider – and very probably pass – an ordinance freeing up the town’s $1 million contribution to the deal at its Sept. 25 and Oct. 9 meetings.

While all the parties involved get something, Avon may be the biggest beneficiary of the deal. The town stands to receive a 478-acre parcel on the west side of town – between the town and Edwards’ Singletree neighborhood – as well as an 86-acre parcel on the east side of town on the north side of Interstate 70.

The western parcel has been used for decades by residents for everything from hiking to cycling to hunting. That land – along with the eastern parcel – is public, owned by the U.S. Forest Service. But both parcels are what’s known as “in holdings,” which means it’s separate from the bulk of forest property in the area.

The Forest Service prefers to have its property in large parcels, so it will sometimes trade those smaller pieces for either cash or land near or in its larger holdings, such as old mining claims. That means public land on the outskirts of a neighborhood can sometimes end up being developed.

“Once you develop land, you’ve lost it,” Eagle Valley Land Trust Executive Director Kara Heide said.

Heide said she’s particularly excited about the prospect of forever-protection of the west Avon piece.

“As long as I’ve lived here, I’ve seen that land used,” Heide said. “Those trails are really well established, and it’s local citizens who keep them in good shape.”

That’s why Carroll is eager to get the deal finished. Besides getting land preserved forever, Carroll said it’s good to see some of the county’s open space money – about $16 million at the last accounting – used in the eastern part of the valley.

“The (county) open space tax has come under some criticism for a variety of reasons,” Carroll said. “But a real variety of land has been preserved – ranches, river access, and now this piece.”

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