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Droste talks end in failure

Sarah S. Chung

A shared resolve to preserve all or part of the scenic ranch lands in the Brush Creek Valley dissolved Tuesday into a volley of insults and the termination of conservation talks.

At a press conference yesterday in Snowmass Village, the government entities pushing to preserve some or all of the 940-acre Droste ranch announced their steering committee has broken off talks with the Droste family.

Ostensibly, it was an inability to reach agreement on the value of the land that led the Drostes and the would-be purchasers of the property to throw up their hands. But no finite price tag was the deal breaker for either side. In the end, it was the perception on both sides that the other party would not be made to see reason that killed the talks.

What began as an effort to protect irreplaceable open space and wildlife habitat ended with charges of “irrational” behavior and “ego and personality” getting in the way of any chance of success.

Family spokesman Peter Droste had already indicated he’d given up. Yesterday’s announcement by representatives of Snowmass Village, Pitkin County and the county Open Space and Trails Board ended all speculation that negotiations might continue.

“No matter what we tried, nothing worked,” said Snowmass Village Mayor T. Michael Manchester. “We weren’t able to have a reasonable discussion. We walked away from a process that was not fruitful and never would be.”

Droste, on the other hand, blames inflexible politicians for the failed effort.

“In my estimation, the process failed because the people involved believed in a dream and wouldn’t accept the truth when it was presented to them,” he said. “Instead of dealing with reality, they held to promises they couldn’t keep and ended up cutting off their nose to spite the face.”

That reality, Droste contends, is his ability to build a road to the upper reaches of the ranch, above the valley floor, opening up development potential on more of the property and tripling its value. An appraisal of the acreage, which set the land’s value at $12 million, considered only development on the valley floor, he said.

Droste announced recently that a road could be routed to the upper lands that meets county slope regulations.

Knowing the new $30 million value he placed on the property was far beyond the reach of the buyers, Droste said he offered to sell just the valley portion of ranch for $7.1 million – as long as the town and county wouldn’t fight him on the road and development on top.

But when the voters of Snowmass Village approved a $7.1 million bond last November for “all or part” of the Droste ranch, Town Council members pledged that a road would not scar the face of the hillside.

Although the language of the bond question would allow the purchase of just the valley and also permit a road, Councilman Jack Hatfield said, “our word is more important than any legal lingo.”

In addition, council members characterized negotiations with Droste as dealing with a “moving target.”

Asking town residents how they felt about allowing a road in order to protect the valley wasn’t seriously considered “because the road wasn’t the problem,” said Manchester. “The problem was we were dealing with an irrational human being.”

Droste also has no kind words for the negotiating process.

“There’s never been what I’d call a real back-and-forth negotiation,” he said. “The gist has always been `take it or leave it.’ It hasn’t been a bargaining process, but more of what I’d consider a rather arrogant edict process.”

At yesterday’s press conference, officials said they feared Droste’s assessment of the land’s worth had no ceiling, noting the price seemed to “go up and up on whim.”

“It was very frustrating that there was no assurance that the next number wouldn’t be $40 million,” said Ken Neil, who represented Snowmass as a citizen on the steering committee.

According to Droste, the outcome was doomed when town officials refused to renege on their election promise.

“It doesn’t matter that what the people really wanted, what they voted for. Egos and personalities prevented this from going forward,” he said.


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