Forest Service tests real estate market in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Forest Service tests real estate market in Aspen

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – With this winter’s planned auction of five lots in Aspen, the U.S. Forest Service will dip its toes in the area real estate market.

How the agency fares will determine whether it moves forward in the near future with other land sales that would raise funds for projects within the White River National Forest, according to Scott Fitzwilliams, forest supervisor.

Fitzwilliams and Scott Snelson, ranger in the Aspen-Sopris District, appeared before Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday to discuss the Forest Service’s plan to sell about an acre of its 3-acre Aspen property and use the proceeds to fund redevelopment of its local facilities, which include housing, administrative offices and a visitor center.

The acre will be divided into five lots, likely to be offered both individually and in a group, according to Fitzwilliams. An auction, probably online, will occur, he said.

“In the end, we’ll have to decide if the bids that come in are adequate,” Fitzwilliams said.

The goal is to realize enough in sales proceeds to fund the rebuilding of the agency’s Aspen facilities, estimated at $9 million to $10 million, but officials aren’t quite sure what to expect.

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“This is the first one out of the chute as far as sales,” Fitzwilliams said.

If the real estate offering falls well short of the agency’s expectations, officials in the White River National Forest will put the property conveyance program on hold for a while, he said.

“We’ll probably mothball the program,” he told commissioners.

The Aspen lots won’t be sold if bids don’t meet a minimum amount, Fitzwilliams added.

The Forest Service has various urban properties within the White River National Forest that it wants to sell, including a bench of land at Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel, though it has pulled riparian land there off the market.

It also has property in Basalt, 11 acres in Summit County that hold aging housing facilities, property in Meeker, a handful of home lots in Eagle and a ranger district office in Minturn that have been identified for disposal. Sale of the Minturn site remains up in the air, but the agency is anxious to combine its facilities in Eagle and Minturn into a single district office, according to Fitzwilliams.

Locally, however, the agency intends to retain district offices in both Aspen and Carbondale, he said.

Even if the Aspen land sale goes well, other agency properties in the White River might not attract the same interest, Fitzwilliams conceded.

“Just because this market’s good doesn’t mean the rest will be,” he said.

If the Forest Service sees the prices it wants from the Aspen lots, design work for its new facilities will resume. A construction start in early 2014 is possible, Kevin Warner, conveyance program manager for the Forest Service, said recently.

This fall, a house on the Aspen property that crosses the boundary between two of the planned lots will be razed in preparation for offering the lots at auction, Fitzwilliams said.

janet@aspentimes.com