Forest Service readies to sell its lots in Aspen |

Forest Service readies to sell its lots in Aspen

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service

ASPEN – The U.S. Forest Service hopes to test the Aspen real estate market this summer, putting prime property in the resort’s West End up for sale.

The auctioning of five lots that are part of the Aspen Ranger District parcel initially was envisioned to take place this winter, during the height of the ski season, but the process was delayed. Now, conveyance of the property has the approval of the director of recreation, lands and minerals for the agency’s Rocky Mountain Region, and pending an appeal period, an auction that coincides with Aspen’s busy summer season is the goal, according to Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest.

In all, the agency is preparing to offer about an acre of its West End property for sale and use the proceeds to fund redevelopment of its adjacent Aspen Ranger District facilities. The cost of rebuilding the complex has been estimated at $9 million to $10 million, according to Kevin Warner, conveyance program manager for the Forest Service.

The acreage to be sold has been divided into five lots; each could be sold separately, or all five could be purchased by one buyer. The property has been appraised by the Forest Service, but its value is a closely guarded secret. After the auction, the agency would compare the bids to the appraisal and decide whether to go forward with the sale, Fitzwilliams said.

It’s the hope that the sale would come close to generating enough money for redevelopment of the Forest Service facilities. The Aspen Ranger District currently consists of a collection of inefficient, antiquated buildings that aren’t worth repairing, according to Fitzwilliams. One old house has been torn down so that none of the lots to be sold would have existing structures on them.

“We’re just hopeful that west side of Aspen is unique as far as land – available land for building,” Fitzwilliams said. “We won’t know until we put the for-sale sign out there.”

According to the Forest Service, the lots would average 7,500 square feet in size and each would be at least 6,000 square feet in accordance with city zoning. Each lot would allow for a home of about 3,500 square feet, with a height limit of 25 feet.

An online auction of the land has been discussed, but Fitzwilliams said the agency still is evaluating the best route for conducting the sale.

“Because it’s Aspen and it’s unique, there may be a better way to do it,” he said.

The Forest Service owns nearly an entire block in Aspen’s West End except for the corner lot that contains the Victorian building that was formerly Poppies Bistro, at Hallam and Eighth streets. The block is cut diagonally by a ditch; the single-family home lots are on one side of the ditch, on the northwest corner of the parcel.

The two remaining acres, which the Forest Service would retain, would see a new administrative building, a warehouse, a bunkhouse to house 16 to 24 people and one triplex containing a two-bedroom unit and two one-bedroom units, according to the agency’s preliminary plans.

Fitzwilliams said he does not know how much the Forest Service originally paid for its Aspen holdings, but the agency did uncover a letter written in the 1960s by the then-district ranger to the White River National Forest supervisor, recommending against the purchase of an adjacent West End block that was available. It was the ranger’s opinion that paying $5,000 for a second city block was a waste of money, Fitzwilliams said.

The existing Aspen Ranger Station office building was constructed almost 70 years ago as a commercial garage and shop. It was renovated into an administrative office building.

The Forest Service’s property in Aspen is the top priority for conveyance and redevelopment in the White River National Forest. The Forest Service Facilities Realignment and Enhancement Act, which Congress passed in 2006, authorizes the sale of excess administrative property and allows the proceeds to be used for maintenance and construction of facilities.

There are other urban properties in the White River pegged for sale, including land near Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel, but the Aspen acreage is the biggie.

“This is by far the most valuable one we have on the forest,” Fitzwilliams said.