Eagle County land conservation deal facing challenge, appraisal review | AspenTimes.com

Eagle County land conservation deal facing challenge, appraisal review

Melanie Wong
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

BURNS, Colo. ” The state is reviewing the appraised value of an Eagle County ranch that was the focus of a $3.4 million conservation deal last year.

The deal, completed in December, placed the 740-acre Gates family ranch under a conservation easement, ensuring it will remain protected open space. Eagle County contributed $2.1 million in open space funds and Great Outdoors Colorado made a $600,000 grant to purchase the easement; the rest came from private donations.

Now, a complaint has been filed challenging the value placed on the land. Critics don’t believe public money should be spent on land so far from the Eagle Valley corridor (Burns is in far northwest Eagle County, near the Routt County line) and have argued that an appraisal of the land overstated the value.

Conservation easements around Colorado have recently come under scrutiny as a result of similar complaints about deals ” and tax credits ” based on allegedly overvalued property.

The Gates ranch appraisal was done by Peterson Appraisal Co. in Lakewood, Colo. The firm also appraised Bair Ranch on the east end of Glenwood Canyon; it was preserved in 2004 with county open space money.

Avon resident Debbie Buckley filed a complaint about the Gates appraisal to the Colorado Division of Real Estate, and Peterson appraisal’s work will be reviewed by an investigator.

“The money could be better spent where it affects the most people. We should look for a deal that strikes a balance between preservation and public recreation,” Buckley said at the county hearing about the ranch.

After the investigator researches the claim, the case can be dismissed based on insufficient evidence, or referred to a state board for further action, said Mike Dunbar of the Division of Real Estate.

“This is a very contentious issue,” said David Peterson of Peterson Appraisal Co. “But we appraised it right, and I’m confident it will not be challenged by the Division of Real Estate.”

The review will not affect the status of the Gates deal, according to Cindy Cohagen of the Eagle Valley Land Trust.

Cohagen called Peterson one of the “finest appraisers in the state.”

“My view is that he was turned in because someone didn’t like it,” she said.

Nathan Nottingham, whose family owns the land neighboring the Gates Ranch, questioned the value of the Gates’ land. The Nottinghams had their own land appraised, and the value came out well below that of the Gates,’ he said.

“This is entirely over-valued,” Nottingham said of the Gates appraisal.

The complaint does not change Great Outdoors Colorado’s position on the ranch, said Communications Director Chris Leding. Based on concerns before the deal was made, the organization had an outside appraiser look at the land, too.

“He came back with minor changes, but still confirming the original appraisal,” she said. “We were comfortable with the results.”

Eagle County has not made a decision on whether or not the investigation affects the county’s contribution, said Justin Finestone, county communications director.

“We will, of course, wait for the results before deciding if its pertinent to the open space grant,” he said.


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