For ranch owner, less is more | AspenTimes.com

For ranch owner, less is more

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

One of the most significant unspoiled pieces of property in the Old Snowmass area has entered the development review process.

But unlike most landowners in Pitkin County these days, Bob Child has very limited ambitions for his 1,506-acre ranch at the edge of U.S. Forest Service land near the headwaters of Capitol Creek.

If all goes as planned, the vast majority of the ranch – 1,254 acres – will remain undeveloped and permanently protected with conservation easements. The development plan calls for just seven residential lots, one for Bob and each of his children, and the right to build a small cabin in the backcountry.

The ranch has been in the family since 1960. It continues to be operated by Steve Child, Bob’s son, and his wife, Molly, and contains some of the most beautiful undeveloped land left in the county. Large meadows and gently sloping hillsides are at the base of the peaks that run between Capitol Peak and Mount Sopris.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Aspen Skiing Co. attempted to carve a ski area out of the U.S. Forest Service property on Haystack Mountain, immediately above the Child ranch. The company also wanted to buy the Child ranch and other properties in the area to develop a base area with shops, condominiums and houses and parking.

But instead of a willing buyer, the Skico found in Bob Child an unyielding opponent. Child led a decade-long battle to keep the Skico out of Capitol Creek and off Haystack Mountain. Child, who served 14 years as a Pitkin County commissioner, finally declared victory in 1980, when much of the land that Skico wanted to develop was placed in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area.

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“It just seemed wrong,” Child said in an interview last year. “There were elk on that mountain. There were about six ranches in that whole valley. It just seemed totally wrong to dump all of that activity in that valley.”

That ethic continues to prevail with the development application submitted to the county commissioners on Wednesday.

But as palatable as the application may be on its face, it does call for some “out of the box” thinking on the part of the commissioners.

The Childs want to create seven 35-acre lots on the lower section of the ranch, near the county road, each with a development right for a home up to 5,750 square feet.

Currently, there are only two houses on the entire ranch, so the family only has two development rights. Under the current land-use code, additional development rights would need to be purchased through the transferable development rights (TDR) program.

TDRs come from lots in remote backcountry areas that have been zoned Rural and Remote and have only limited development potential. In exchange for giving up all development plans, backcountry lot owners can sell their development right on the open market to people who want to make houses larger than allowed or create development rights where none currently exist. A TDR was recently listed for sale in The Aspen Times at a price of $219,000.

The Childs are asking the county to rezone most of their ranch from RS-30, which allows a home – with multiple bedrooms, driveways, landscaping and the like – on every 30 acres, to Rural and Remote, which limits development to a 1,000-square-foot cabin for every 35 acres of land.

Once that’s done, the Childs want to be allowed to use the transferable development rights that go with their newly downzoned property to endow five of the new residential lots with development rights. Currently, such internal use of transferable development rights is not allowed by the county land-use code. The remaining transferable development rights would be sold off when desired.

The family is also in negotiations with the Conservation Fund, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails and the Western Colorado Agricultural Heritage Fund to place conservation easements over the entire 1,506 acres – including the seven residential lots. The conservation easement on the residential lots would prohibit further subdivision if state or county laws change.

“Just because we’re creating seven lots doesn’t mean there will be seven houses built. Hopefully some of them will never be built,” said Steve Child. And given the Child family’s history, Steve’s wish may come true.

The county commissioners did not act on the application Wednesday. They will take it up again on Aug. 28.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]