Members of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board of directors vowed Thursday to make sure the public retains “meaningful” access to the Windstar property in Old Snowmass, which was sold this week for $8.5 million.
The county agency and Aspen Valley Land Trust hold a conservation easement on 927 of the 957 acres at Windstar. That easement guarantees the public can use the land and trails that cross it. However, the parking lot that provides access to the land is on 30 acres of private property outside of the easement. The Windstar Land Conservancy and Rocky Mountain Institute declined to amend the easement prior to the sale to ensure the public can still park there after the new owner takes control, according to Dale Will, director of the open space and trails program.
Old Snowmass resident Kevin Ward told the open space board Thursday that he is concerned a lack of parking could be used to deter the public from visiting the property by the new owner. Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on energy efficiency and sustainability, has leased the 30 acres so it can keep its office there for two more years. After that, the buyer takes over. The buyer is only identified in the deed as Five Valley Farm LLC. The entity’s Aspen attorney, Herb Klein, declined to identify the person or parties in the corporation.
Open space board member Tim McFlynn assured Ward that the open space program has a commitment “to the public and to that valley.”
“The real issue you’re raising is, is it meaningful access?” McFlynn said. “That is an issue we care about and we intend to preserve.
“I understand your point,” McFlynn continued while addressing Ward. “It’s nice to have an ocean but not if you don’t have a beach.”
Open space board member Hawk Greenway said he researched the conservation easement and believes it provides public access to the 30 acres that are carved out of the larger property. If that’s the case, he said, the new owner would likely be willing to negotiate on the parking issue in return for restricting public access on the 30 acres outside of the 927-acre conservation easement, Greenway said. The county has leverage in the issue, he suggested.
Ward also questioned if Windstar Land Conservancy and the institute violated the intent of an effort in 1996 to buy the Windstar property. The institute led a fund-raising effort to buy the land that was once acquired by John Denver as a headquarters for his Windstar Foundation. Ward read a letter into the record at the open space board meeting by institute cofounder and former executive Hunter Lovins that claimed officials with the institute made commitments to Pitkin County, Great Outdoors Colorado and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation that it would never sell the land. The commitments were made in return for financial contributions for the purchase of the property, according to Lovins. Her letter said the commitment was documented.
Will called the allegations “fairly serious” so he has been researching the issue. “We have not seen a prohibition of sale” in the conservation easement, he said. The terms of the conservation easement, such as a prohibition on development of the 927 acres, carries over to the new buyer. Will said perhaps the prohibition on a sale is “imbedded” in some internal documents at the institute that aren’t open to the public.
Rocky Mountain Institute officials have stressed while talking about the sale that public use of the land will remain in perpetuity. The organization will use its share of the sale proceeds to build a new office in Basalt.
Open space board chairman Ty Jacober told Ward the board will discuss the issues in more detail with its staff and attorney and respond to his concerns about long-term public access to Windstar at a later time.