The sale of the Windstar property in April didn’t violate any conditions of a conservation easement held by Pitkin County, according to the County Attorney’s Office.
At least five critics of the transaction received a letter from the County Attorney’s Office late last week informing them that the county’s interests were protected.
“We have conducted a review of almost two dozen documents available to us, including the original approvals for the Windstar Foundation, and at this time have determined that there is no prohibition on the sale of the Windstar Property to any individual or entity,” said the letter from Jane Achey, legal assistant in the County Attorney’s Office.
“The conservation easement expressly allows for a subsequent transfer of the land so long as the conservation easement is incorporated into any deed or other legal instrument by which the Windstar Land Conservancy divests itself of all or a portion of the property,” the letter continued. “The buyer of the property on April 29, 2013, took title subject to the conservation easement.”
Five Valley Farm LLC bought the 957-acre property in Old Snowmass for $8.5 million. The conservation easement prohibits development on 927 acres. The new owner has a development right on the remaining 30 acres. A house or other building would require review for the site plan and activity envelope, Achey wrote. That review would be in a public meeting, she said.
Kevin Ward, a neighbor of the Windstar property, has challenged the legality of the sale in testimony before county officials. He said Monday that the county’s letter doesn’t come as a surprise, but he doesn’t believe the county looked at the issues he feels negate the sale.
The two nonprofit organizations that owned Windstar — the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Windstar Land Conservancy — had a fiduciary duty to care for the property, not sell it, Ward claimed. He and other critics of the sale are seeking legal advice for a possible injunction challenging the sale.
Ward said his primary concern is making sure the public retains access to the 927 acres in the conservation easement.
“I’m motivated by privatization of public lands,” he said.
For now, the public can use the Rocky Mountain Institute’s parking lot for access to the trailhead. However, the institute must vacate the property in two years. The fate of the parking area is unclear. It is within the 30 acres that aren’t subject to a conservation easement.
Pitkin County Open Space and Trails officials said they would work on the access with the new owner at the appropriate time.
Ward said he is concerned the new owner could post a “no trespassing” sign to keep the public off. He said he doesn’t have confidence Pitkin County would do anything to preserve the access.
Achey’s letter didn’t address access specifically but said the conservation-easement terms will remain the same despite the sale and that Pitkin County is diligent about preserving those rights.
Ward wants the buyers to end the secrecy over their identity and anticipated use of the land. He specifically wants Five Valley Farms to address the public-access issue.
“I would shut up immediately,” he said.