Hatfield: Condemn property for trail | AspenTimes.com

Hatfield: Condemn property for trail

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

County Commissioner Jack Hatfield called on Pitkin County and Snowmass Village to take extreme measures against a local school in order to complete a pedestrian and bicycle trail along Brush Creek.

Hatfield said the two governments should consider condemnation in order to secure a trail easement through two lots owned by benefactors of Aspen Country Day School.

The school is hoping to use the land for a new campus and has included a trail as part of its land-use application.

“I don’t want to wait that long. If reasonable negotiations fail, I believe we should condemn the land,” Hatfield said yesterday at a joint meeting of the Pitkin County commissioners and the Snowmass Village Town Council.

Hatfield said he’s heard from county staff members that the school is reluctant to grant access for a trail easement across the property, except as part of the land-use application process.

Hatfield, whose district includes the land Country Day wants to build on, said the completion of the yet-to-be-built trail should not be tied to a land-use application.

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“I think it’s ridiculous that we are planning a public safety and welfare infrastructure improvement, and people will not cooperate with what seems to be an obvious need,” he said.

“I’m not going to vote yes for their application based on a trail easement. I’m going to vote on it based on its merits,” he added.

Aspen Country Day School Principal John Suitor could not be reached for comment.

Hatfield’s call to arms came after a request for assistance from Snowmass Village Mayor T. Michael Manchester.

The county and the town have secured easements across three of five parcels of privately owned land that need to be crossed in order to build a trail from the rodeo grounds to Highway 82. Manchester said it appears likely that the town will secure access across a fourth, the Seven Star Ranch.

But the mayor said he had no leverage with which to negotiate access across the Country Day property at the bottom of the valley, and he asked the county to see what it could do.

Cyclists and pedestrians are currently forced to travel along Brush Creek Road, a two-lane road without shoulders that serves as the primary access to Snowmass Ski Area. Manchester said the trail could be diverted back to Brush Creek Road for a few hundred yards if Country Day does not cooperate.

Manchester and Hatfield both said they would like to see construction on the trail begin this summer, if possible.

Aspen Country Day School is hoping to relocate to a brand-new campus at the base of Brush Creek. In addition to several school buildings, the proposal includes about two dozen employee housing units to be located on site.

Country Day has spent most of its 32-year existence renting space on the Aspen Music School campus along the banks of Castle Creek. School officials say they need the new campus in order to expand enrollment and provide certainty for the future.

The campus would be located in an area that has long been used by local elk herds to access water and travel between Owl Creek and Snowmass Creek. Hatfield, a longtime friend of the elk, has been vociferous in his opposition to the proposal.

County Commissioners Dorothea Farris and Patti Clapper were both skeptical of Hatfield’s call for condemnation. Farris responded pointedly by saying she had not heard that the school wouldn’t grant the easement.

And Clapper wondered where Hatfield planned to get the money needed to pay for the land he wanted to condemn. Governments that condemn private property for public use are required to compensate the landowner at prevailing market rates – a pricey proposition in the Aspen-Snowmass area.

Clapper also noted that the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board has taken a public stance against condemnation, and she doubted they would free up the money needed to pay Country Day for the trail.

In addition to skeptical colleagues on the board of county commissioners and a reluctant Open Space and Trails Board, Hatfield’s proposal may not have the support it needs from the Snowmass Village Town Council.

“I’m not sure we’re with you on this Jack,” said Town Councilman Arnie Mordkin.

Mordkin said before deciding about what to do with Country Day he would like to see how Manchester does in negotiations with the owners of the Seven Star Ranch, who are seeking extension of expiring development approvals.

Most of the other elected officials in the room kept their thoughts on the topic of condemnation to themselves.