Edwards land deal designed to preserve ‘passive’ open space | AspenTimes.com

Edwards land deal designed to preserve ‘passive’ open space

Cliff Thompson

Seventy-two acres along the south side of the Eagle River between Edwards and the B&B gravel pit to the west is under a one-year, $12 million purchase option aimed at preserving it as “passive” open space with no development.Until late July, the parcel had been under contract for purchase – also for $12 million – by developers Rick Hermes and George Sanders of Edwards-based Community Concepts. They had envisioned using the Eaton Ranch and some adjacent parcels, totaling 185 acres, to develop up to 400,000 square-feet of commercial and residential space. That plan failed along with the contract for “financial reasons,” Hermes said Tuesday.Money for the option and purchase negotiation came from the Vail Valley Foundation which departed from its traditional role in producing cultural events and related activities, into helping acquire open space. This was done at the suggestion of developer Jen Wright, who helped negotiate the purchase option with ranch owner Bruce Eaton. Wright approached the Vail Valley Foundation with the idea of preserving the space nearly a year ago. It’s an opportunity to create open space in the central part of Eagle County that may not again occur, proponents said. The land includes nearly a half mile of cottonwood and spruce-covered riverbanks and meadows along the river.The option required a initial $25,000 down payment with $500,000 due Jan. 15 and the balance due at closing in a year. If the money is not raised in the next year the property could be developed.Disappearing land”This is a rare and fleeting opportunity to make an impact that we will see years from now,” said Ceil Folz, president of the Vail Valley Foundation.In the next year the Foundation will be working with local, state and federal governmental agencies, as well as with conservation groups like the Eagle Valley Land Trust, to raise the $12 million for the purchase.”Shame on us if we don’t try,” said Harry Frampton, a developer and a board member of the Vail Valley Foundation. “This isn’t the Foundation’s project. It’s a community project.”The option to purchase was announced at a press conference held on the land.”Great core properties like this are disappearing all too rapidly,” added Jay Precourt of the Eagle Valley Land Trust. The biggest challenge, proponents agree, is raising the $12 million in the next year. Two months ago, the county approved using $2 million in open space tax money to purchase development rights on the Bair Ranch just east of Glenwood Canyon to protect it from any future construction. Unlike the Bair Ranch, the new proposal on the Eaton Ranch is for an outright purchase that will provide public access to the land.One possibility is selling a portion of the site to raise the $12 million.”That’s not the way we’re going into this,” said Frampton, adding that is an outside consideration at this time.”That money is going to come from people like me who will make donations, from Eagle County, from the state and the federal government,” said Frampton. A number of nonprofit organizations will also be involved, he said.Who will own it?Frampton said the specifics of who will own the property and exactly where public access points will be remains to be worked out by a professional planner. It’s likely it will be owned by the county or a nonprofit organization. A portion of the land contains stockpiled gravel and rocks from the B&B operation, but it will be reclaimed. The press conference was held on a five-acre hay meadow that had previously been reclaimed.The Eaton family kept 21 acres on the north side of the river that holds the ranch house, corrals and barns. The water rights for the property will be split 70-30 with the 72 acres of open space getting the majority of the water and the rest going to the 21 acres of ranch.Hermes still has a purchase contract on 105 acres of wetlands along the river on the north and south sides that includes the site of the B&B asphalt batch plant and a three-acre parcel just west of Edwards.Hermes said he intends to develop the B&B parcel and would entertain donating the undevelopable wetlands that comprise the majority of the acreage to a conservation organization. He did not elaborate on what type of development would take place.