Conservation is the key to Craig Ranch development |

Conservation is the key to Craig Ranch development

Marilyn Gleason
Plans to subdivide the Craig Ranch near Woody Creek are currently before the Pitkin County commissioners. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

A plan to subdivide a historic Woody Creek homestead rich with wildlife and scenery has been met with surprising warmth from neighbors, and appears headed toward approval by the Pitkin County commissioners. Even the Woody Creek Caucus, dreaded by would-be developers, retracted its claws long enough to scribble a letter of support to Pitkin County planners.Mike Owsley, chairman of the caucus planning commission, drafted the letter to the county. He said low-density development and floor plans well-below limits allowed by the county were attractive features of the proposal. “We oppose developing 765 units,” Owsley said in reference to the Caucus’ active opposition to developer John Musick’s proposal several years ago for the neighborhood. “But the fact is, we don’t oppose all development.”Following a first reading before the commissioners earlier this month, the Craig Ranch is close to the end of the subdivision process, according to Pitkin County Senior Planner Suzanne Wolff. A final hearing before the commissioners is scheduled for Oct. 13. The Craig family ranch’s 1,084 acres encompass a mile of valley floor traversed by Woody Creek, a cluster of ranch houses and outbuildings, two hillsides flanking the river and tabletop land on Wagner Mountain.With Carol Craig turning 70 this year, she and her three children are anxious to divide up the land.

“She is the main reason we still have the ranch,” said daughter Jennifer Craig.The family plan carves the ranch into eight parcels. It would rezone a 300-acre parcel to rural and remote standards under county land-use rules, effectively taking it off the table for future development. In return, the Craig family would receive eight transferable development rights that can be traded for building rights or additional square footage or sold outright. Each sibling will gain ownership of two developable parcels, ranging from 55 acres to 250 acres. The ranch house and barn sit on 43 acres which will go to Carol Craig. The plan seeks approvals for seven homes, one for each lot including Carol Craig’s.Since 1962, the Craig family has inhabited and worked the land nestled between McClain Flats and Starwood. “It’s a beautiful piece of property. We’ve been devoted to it all our lives,” said Jennifer Craig.Jennifer said her family bought the ranch from its original homesteader, Cliff Wagner. In the early 1960s, it cost $160,000. The most recent appraisal valued the entire ranch at more than $20 million, she said.In the past, the family raised cattle for slaughter, put up hay in the summer, and raised and trained horses on the ranch. Jennifer, who competed in equestrian events for years, sold their last horse this summer. Now she grows organic produce intensively on 1.5 acres of the ranch, selling salad greens, spinach, beets and other vegetables to the Butcher’s Block and other restaurants, and at local farmers markets.

The family still leases pastureland for grazing cattle and grows hay.Her sister Kathleen is an artist. Her brother Michael monitors water use along irrigation canals for the state. All three children, now in their 40s, live in the Roaring Fork Valley. “Like so many ranching families, we’re land rich and cash poor,” Jennifer Craig said.Pitkin County planners agree with the family that the plan has located building sites sensitively. Two building sites are on the mountainsides and three are on the valley floor.”There’s not going to be a building sitting out in the middle of a hayfield or visible on a ridge top,” said Craig. “My goal was to keep the view the same as my entire life.” One issue commissioners must decide is whether the Craigs will be allowed to allocate transferable development rights (TDRs) in an unconventional way.The Craig application seeks approval for two homes at 5,750 square feet, the maximum allowed by right, and five more at 7,500 square feet. Pitkin County zoning allows buildings of up to 15,000 square feet, but only with sufficient development rights.

Colorado law allows owners of large parcels to subdivide their holdings into 35-acre parcels. Pitkin County grants one TDR for each 35 acres rezoned to rural and remote. Transferable development rights earned from the 300 acres rezoned to rural and remote would be used to purchase rights for the additional square footage. The county counts a TDR as being worth up to 2,500 square feet of additional development. As proposed, the five larger buildings require 1,750 additional square feet, The land-use code requires the Craigs or whoever develops their property to purchase one TDR for each building. The difference between the 2,500 square feet a TDR represents and the 1,750 square feet the Craigs are requesting is not transferable. Essentially, the unused 750 square feet would be lost.The Craigs have asked the county to allow them to share the square footage represented by the TDRs among the different parcels. That way, three rather than four TDR’s would be required for four lots. Splitting the square footage among the lots would leave the family with an extra TDR that could then be sold to developers elsewhere in the upper valley. TDR’s have sold recently for $180,000, according to Wolff of Pitkin County.Jennifer Craig called 15,000 square-foot-houses “obscene” and remembers wistfully a time when Aspen was “a tiny town with dirt streets.” While the proposal before the commissioners guarantees there will be no houses, change is hard to avoid. “It’s very unique. They’re not making anymore land,” she said. “We’re all very conservation minded. But to be honest, I don’t know what we’ll do when we have the titles in our hands for our respective properties.”