Emma more than just old buildings
EMMA When the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails (OST) board first contemplated buying the Mather property in Emma 12.5 acres mostly between the Roaring Fork River and the portion of Highway 82 once called the Basalt bypass the main interest was not in the buildings that occupy the western end of the parcel.Instead, the board and the staff viewed the property as what one board member called a cornerstone of open ground, untrammeled by development, from the northern Pitkin County line all the way to the Basalt town limits, not to mention the riparian area bordering the river. The public now owns both riverbanks from the western edge of the Mather parcel all the way to the western edge of Basalt, where the Taqueria Nopal is located.Dale Will, director of OST, said the conversations with the propertys former owner, Owen Minney of Newport Beach, Calif., began eight years ago.Casually, Ive been talking to him since we bought the Emma Open Space from Vivian Thomas in 2000, Will recalled. We were interested in the riparian area even then.But the talks went nowhere until Minney, who has owned the land since 1998, decided to demolish the old commercial buildings and sell.Minney, who battled local governments for a decade about development of the parcel, had an approved building site at the eastern end of the property. But Pitkin County refused to permit him to split the parcel in two, and real estate agents told him no one would buy the land with the old, historic buildings at one end because of the potential historic-preservation headaches.Thats ironically what lead to the whole dilemma, said Will. When the county learned of Minneys demolition, sale and development plans, Will said, negotiations began in earnest to acquire the property.And, Will said, Owen wanted to preserve the historic resources, he just couldnt get anything going with the county.The result was a below-market sale price Will said Minney believes he can write off the difference on his taxes, a matter of a million dollars or so and an acquisition that met several of the countys policy goals regarding historic preservation and open space.Tim McFlynn, one of the founders of the OS&T program in 1990, said of the Mather property, It really is a cornerstone, when you look at it with the Emma Open Space and the Grange Ranch [a nearby ranch that is subject to a conservation easement]. Its the heart of Emma … a very important part of the agricultural history of our valley.The boards interest, he said, was in both the buildings and the river frontage and open lands to the east.Key parcels have old buildings, and thats just part of why you want to preserve the parcel, he explained.As for the future use of the land, aside from the buildings, he said, It should be enjoyed by the public.He noted that the county has bicycle trails through the Mather land (Old Emma Road) as well as the Emma Open Space (the Rio Grande Trail), and that the rest of the property must undergo a recreational management assessment before any further amenities can be considered, such as whether an active park or a passive park would be a better use of the land.We dont know yet, he said. Its too early to say.The level meadows and the steep hillside leading down to the river, Will said, will all be evaluated to determine which plant and wildlife species exist there, before the staff even starts planning the future uses of the property.The public now owns both riverbanks from the western edge of the Mather parcel all the way to the western edge of Basalt, where the Taqueria Nopal is located.
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