Castle Creek community fights Ashcroft homesite
While a development application for an Ashcroft mining claim may fulfill all of Pitkin County’s requirements, it has failed to receive the blessing of the Castle Creek community.
David Middleton’s application to build a 5,000-square-foot house and a 700-square-foot caretaker dwelling on a 10.2-acre patented claim is moving through the county’s land-use process.
Middleton three years ago risked a large sum of his own money to ensure preservation of the Ryan parcel within Ashcroft Ski Touring, a nordic skiing operation in the Castle Creek Valley. He’s now under fire for electing to go forward with a development application on a separate parcel, the Elmira Lode. The hillside mining claim is located 400 feet south of his Elk Mountain Lodge property near the historic ghost town of Ashcroft.
The Castle Creek Caucus submitted comments on Middleton’s proposal to the county planning department on March 15. The group’s letter says a 5,700-square-foot home is incompatible with the historic and pristine nature of the Ashcroft area, and calls for the size to be reduced.
The caucus letter notes that if the house is built, access to it would be by way of Express Creek Road, which is not currently plowed in the winter. One of Ashcroft Ski Touring’s trails crosses that road, and would be negatively affected.
The caucus also complains that the house, if built, will be visible from the ghost town, which is on the National Register of Historic Sites. But this contradicts the text of Middleton’s application, which reads, “… the proposed structure will probably not be visible from the town of Ashcroft. In addition, there are several modern structures which are nearer in proximity to the town of Ashcroft.”
When Middleton bought the patented claim in February 1999, he hoped to trade it to the U.S. Forest Service to prevent its development. Forest Service officials, however, were not interested.
Middleton said he met with former Aspen District Ranger Rob Iwamoto and Al Grimshaw, a Forest Service lands and minerals officer, shortly after he purchased the claim. Iwamoto and Grimshaw didn’t feel the property was a candidate for a land trade, Middleton said.
Because the land is an inholding, completely surrounded by National Forest land, acquisition by the Forest Service is the obvious solution, said Middleton. So, he hasn’t pursued preservation of the land through other agencies.
“If the Forest Service thinks it’s not a candidate, and they don’t think development would be detrimental, it kind of ends there,” he said.
Middleton said he contacted Forest Service officials “a couple of months ago,” just to make sure they don’t want to act.
“They felt they could live with development on the property,” he said. Middleton said Grimshaw has promised to attend an April 12 public hearing before the county commissioners, to explain why the Forest Service doesn’t think the parcel is a candidate for a land swap or purchase by the agency.
Middleton didn’t contact the Aspen Valley Land Trust, an organization involved in the preservation of the Ryan parcel, because AVLT is set up to purchase land for preservation, but not to hold property, he said.
He didn’t approach the Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails program, either. But Dale Will, executive director of the program, said the Open Space and Trails Board might have been interested.
“One of the major reasons for creation of Open Space and Trails is to purchase inholdings,” Will said.
Lynne Mace, co-owner of the nearby Toklat Gallery and a Castle Creek Caucus member, said she wishes Middleton had come to the caucus to brainstorm before submitting his application.
When Middleton and his realtor put together his plan for the property, he said, his intent was to sell the property with a land-use approval already in place which would restrict development on the parcel.
“We went for 5,000 square feet because it seemed like a reasonable request, coming down from 15,000,” Middleton said. Zoning at the site allows a 15,000-square-foot home, he said. The application also specifies buried utility lines and natural landscaping to lessen the development impact, he said.
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