Droste impasse may be the last | AspenTimes.com

Droste impasse may be the last

Going, going, gone?

The latest impasse between the town of Snowmass Village and the Droste family over a crucial chunk of open space may be the last.

While the two sides are closer than ever on agreeing to terms to preserve 500 acres of the family’s scenic ranch holdings in the Brush Creek Valley, they aren’t close enough to stop 22 lots on the Droste land from going on the market today.

“Ultimately, I’d like to think there’s some hope, but I don’t know,” said Snowmass Village Mayor T. Michael Manchester yesterday.

“All they have to do is sign our contract or they don’t have a deal. It’s that simple,” countered Peter Droste.

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Ostensibly, the key differences between the Drostes’ most recent offer and the town’s counter offer are $500,000, development rights elsewhere on the property, and who controls the conservation easement.

The Drostes offered to sell a conservation easement preserving 500 acres of the valley floor to the town for $7.5 million. As a condition, the family wants to transfer development rights from the valley to increase the development potential atop the ridge above the valley by 14 more homes.

The town countered with an offer to buy the easement on 500 acres for $7 million with the condition that it have more control over use of the land covered by the easement. Also, the town wants no transfer of development rights as part of the deal.

Both sides have gone on record professing their desire to preserve the 500 acres for its open space values – the land forms the entranceway to town. But once again, both sides believe they’re giving much more than they’re receiving – a perception that has tripped up past attempts to reach a deal.

The Drostes contend the $7.5 million asking price is based on the appraised value of a $1.5 million conservation easement on 100 adjacent acres, which the family sold to Pitkin County in 1996. (The county paid $480,000; the Drostes received a $1 million tax break.)

“What it comes down to is that they’re acting like they’re being cheated, when they’re being offered a three-year-old price to save 500 acres for the public forever,” Droste said. “Alternatively, these lots will turn into 35-acre premier homesteads that will be deed-restricted to prevent public access now or in the future – no trails, nothing.”

But the town – acting on the counsel of the individual who appraised the property just months ago – insists $7 million should either buy the 500 acres outright or, at the very least, give it control over the uses allowed under the easement.

“I think we made a fair counter offer. The ball’s in his court now,” said Councilman Doug Mercatoris yesterday. “The prospect [of subdivision] makes me very sad. It would be a shame, but I acted on my fiduciary responsibility, my responsibility to the community.”

“As elected officials, we have a duty to not pay more than is justified,” Manchester said. “Everybody would like to see the land preserved. It’s so easy to say, but we aren’t willing to pay more than it’s worth. We have to be responsible with the public’s money.”

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