Flying Dog Ranch gives up acreage
ASPEN George Stranahan took steps toward his goal of protecting his Woody Creek ranch in perpetuity at Wednesday’s Pitkin County commissioners meeting.Stranahan, who has owned the Flying Dog Ranch since 1968, is donating hundreds of acres of open space to earn transferable development rights and build a 10,750-square-foot home to sell for profit. That’s the only way he could do it, he said.Stranahan was one of the first in Colorado to put land under a conservation easement, preserving 330 acres of mining property high above Lenado in 1978 – long before it was a common practice.And it is that spirit that brought him before commissioners this week for another amendment to his master plan to conserve open space, bring his current buildings up to code and develop a new homesite to pay for it all, he said.”There are no thanks for keeping it green,” Stranahan said.Stranahan, who has owned the ranch since the late 1960s, said raising cattle and growing hay lost him $400 per acre annually. At the same time, the property was gaining value at an estimated $800 per acre per year, he said. And Stranahan couldn’t make a return on his investment unless he sold.”There’s no way allowed in the code to earn a living out of it,” Stranahan said. “I can’t leave the ranch to the family without having a trust for that.”And he hopes that by conserving land and developing a homesite, he can leave an endowment.”He wants the property in essence to pay for itself,” said Jim Curtis, Stranahan’s land planner.The planThe 1978 conservation easement on the mining property above Lenado is full of “loosey-goosey” language, Curtis said. That’s why Stranahan is “trying to clean up his estate planning,” he said.Stranahan is asking to transfer development rights from the mining land – to protect more than 300 acres in perpetuity – and hopes to use those rights on lower parcels, bringing some existing structures into compliance, adding square footage and building a large home on a mesa to the east.Stranahan plans to conserve 88 acres south of Woody Creak Road, and said preserving the land would mean more than 2 miles of pristine ranchland along Woody Creek Road – Stranahan’s neighbors on both sides also preserved land.”The south pasture is [the] key piece in maintaining agricultural pastures and ranch feeling of the area,” Curtis said. “He would really like to preserve the south parcel … truly for the benefit of the Woody Creek valley.”But the approach to the site Stranahan wants to develop is too steep, and a road would have to cut across more than 100 feet of 30-degree grade.County commissioners, meeting in Aspen, denied Stranahan’s application to build on the mesa Wednesday, then called their actions a “taking,” which allows commissioners to decide the matter, with special provisions, in a hearing.Commissioners were positive about the project but listed a number of issues.At the takings hearing, commissioners will consider the use of transferable rights on the property and take a closer look at the proposed driveway to the east mesa home. And Stranahan will have a chance to present plans to shore up the steep section and make it safe.Commissioner Rachel Richards suggested a 10,750-square-foot cap on the east mesa development, and Commissioner Patti Clapper agreed.”We’re reinforcing the conservation easement and creating a heck of a lot of open space. … This sounds to me like a winner,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield.”There are wildlife issues up on the mesa,” Commissioner Michael Owsley said. And it would be important to cap the house size and restrict the building area to avoid conflicting with habitat, he said.Commissioners also plan to discuss Stranahan’s plans to grow crops that could be used to make biodiesel fuel.The takings hearing will be in late May.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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