Plowing fresh ground | AspenTimes.com

Plowing fresh ground

Tom Waldeck doesn’t believe farming and ranching are dead in the Roaring Fork Valley, even if traditional ways don’t cut it financially any more.So Waldeck has pursued a nontraditional approach of melding luxury home development with a newfangled style of “sustainable” farming in the midvalley.The idea still needs fine-tuning, he acknowledged. At this point he’s considering a place that has some goats and chickens. A few cattle could graze in pastures, although not on the scale of a traditional Western cattle ranch. Meat, cheese and other products could be sold directly to consumers. Vegetables could be grown, and possibly a greenhouse could be used to grow herbs.Waldeck hoped to try his plan on a couple of ranches in Emma, but it’s been tough going. His contract to buy one spread fell through and his proposal for another was met with sympathy but skepticism from Eagle County officials.Waldeck said in a public meeting this week that his contract to buy 567 acres of the 1,167-acre Fender Ranch in Emma has expired.”It didn’t work out. We no longer have it under contract at this time,” he said.Pat Fender, who has owned and operated the ranch with her husband, Bill, for 45 years, declined to comment. Since that deal fell through, a different prospective buyer has placed another contract on the ranch.The Fender Ranch is one of the last bona fide cattle operations in Pitkin County. The entire ranch is for sale for $10.5 million.Waldeck’s plan was to redevelop two existing homesites, add five more and undertake some type of sustainable farming operation. The plan faced an uncertain fate in Pitkin County’s land-use process. It faced scathing opposition from some members of the Emma Caucus at a September meeting of neighborhood residents.Penney Evans Carruth, the listing broker for the Fender Ranch, declined to comment on the deal with Waldeck.With Fender out of the mix for Waldeck, he is concentrating on getting a development proposal approved on the Cerise Ranch, located at the sweeping curve where Hooks Lane evolves into Emma Road on the Pitkin-Eagle county line.Vast pastures where cattle have grazed and hay has been raised for decades in that neighborhood are getting converted into lots that are larger and more rural than typical suburbia. “McMansions” are starting to sprout in the former farming and ranching area.Waldeck’s plan goes beyond a residential development with a token hay field tucked in the middle, said his attorney, Dave Myler of Aspen. Waldeck comes from a farming rather than a real estate development background, Myler said, and he genuinely wants to keep farming alive in the valley, even if on a small scale.”At the end of the day, we think that the worst that could happen is to carve [the Cerise Ranch] up into 35-acre parcels,” Myler said.Waldeck wants to develop seven lots on the ranch but preserve roughly 80 acres of the 106-acre ranch as open space and agricultural lands. The lots would be sold, but he and his family would undertake the farming operation.In a hearing on the application this week, Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi said his first impression was that Waldeck’s plan was a fancy way of saying people could buy McMansions and live next to cows in an idyllic way. But if the farming angle is genuine, he questioned how the county could enforce those “great intentions.””Pardon the pun, but we’re plowing some new ground here,” Myler responded. The attorney admitted there is a risk that the farming operation wouldn’t be successful. One way or another, Waldeck is pledging in his application to Eagle County to place a conservation easement on the 80 acres and keep it undeveloped, Myler said.Commissioner Tom Stone said he had doubts about whether a sustainable farm could work. The key, he said, is to see an ironclad plan on preserving the open space and agricultural lands in a way that they won’t get overgrown with weeds.The commissioners will resume their hearing on the plan and possibly vote on it Tuesday at a hearing at the county courthouse in Eagle.Neighbor scrambles to buy Fender RanchLongtime Emma resident Tom Clark was concerned that a ranch adjacent to his would fall into the wrong hands, so he decided to do something about it.Clark made his move to buy the historic Fender Ranch when another prospective buyer’s deal fell through recently, according to sources familiar with the deal. Clark informed members of the Emma Caucus about the contract Wednesday night, according to a person in attendance.Clark couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday evening. At a caucus meeting in September, he vehemently objected to a prospective buyer’s development plan to build seven homes on the Fender Ranch.”I hate to say it, but I think we might have the wrong buyer,” Clark said at that earlier meeting. He insisted someone could be found that would keep the ranch largely intact, without a lot of development. He apparently could prove prophetic.Clark has lived next to the Fender Ranch for 26 years. It couldn’t be determined Thursday if he has a contract to purchase the entire 1,167 acres the Fenders have listed for sale for $10.5 million, or if the contract is for a portion of the ranch.Bill and Pat Fender have owned and operated the ranch for 45 years. Their son, Willie, and his wife, Fran, also run the cattle operation.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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