Conflicts trouble Open Space chair |

Conflicts trouble Open Space chair

Jeremy Heiman

A member of Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails Board isn’t sure the board should be negotiating for a land trade to preserve the Ryan parcel in Ashcroft while the county is processing a development application on the property.

Open Space Board Chairman Bill Fales told the board last Thursday he was uncomfortable continuing to participate in negotiations for a land trade with David Middleton, owner of the Ryan parcel, while Middleton’s application is being processed by the county.

“I think we used to have a policy that we didn’t negotiate with anyone who had an application in with the county,” Fales said. He said his worst fear is that if the county commissioners denied an application, the applicant could accuse the commissioners of being in collusion with the Open Space Board.

But Open Space Director Dale Will reassured Fales that it isn’t necessary to worry in this particular instance, and other Open Space trustees argued that such a policy might eliminate important properties from preservation.

“I think a flat policy would take us off the table,” said board member John Starr, a part-owner of The Aspen Times.

Rick Neiley said he’s also uncomfortable with negotiating for a property with a land-use application in process. But he pointed out that some properties only come to the program’s attention after an application has been filed.

“In a perfect world,” Fales said, “I’d like to deal with only people who want to sell us their land `as is.'” But he repeated that he doesn’t want to work with people who are trying to lever the Open Space Program into a negotiating position by threatening to jack up the price.

Middleton initiated his application to build on the property last winter before he placed the parcel on the real estate market. He said then that he was applying for the land-use approval so that he could ensure that any development after it was sold would take place in a location where its impact would be minimized.

The 35-acre parcel, formerly owned by the estate of skiing pioneer Ted Ryan, is located halfway between the King Cabin and the Pine Creek Cookhouse in Ashcroft, on the west side of Castle Creek Road. Ashcroft Ski Touring has leased the property from the estate since present operator John Wilcox took over the business in 1986. Key cross country ski trails cross part of the property.

Middleton, owner of the Elk Mountain Lodge near Ashcroft, contracted to buy the parcel to prevent its development in 1997, when it appeared it would be sold for a luxury home. The U.S. Forest Service had promised to try to purchase the property from Middleton, but the agency is bound by regulations that would draw the process out for years.

A group of individuals representing the Forest Service, the Castle Creek community and land preservation agencies has been meeting in an effort to create a land trade or find some other resolution to the situation.

Middleton had not planned to hold the property for long, and staggering interest payments on the $3 million property have forced him to try different ways of getting out from under it.

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