Hunt Ranch back on the market " for $17 million |

Hunt Ranch back on the market " for $17 million

Paul Conrad Aspen Times file

MISSOURI HEIGHTS ” The investors in a Missouri Heights cattle ranch are trying to sell the property after losing a bitter fight last month over their development proposal.

The 561-acre Hunt Ranch is on the market for $17 million. “We’ve been approached by several different developers,” said Greg Amsden, a Vail businessman who helped lead the investment group in Hunt Ranch LLC.

Hunt Ranch is a picturesque cattle spread along County Road 102, roughly 25 miles downvalley from Aspen. The ramshackle collection of barns, sheds and residences includes a homestead ranch house built in 1914. The property is sandwiched by another working ranch owned by the Strang family and by the King’s Row subdivision.

Amsden’s group acquired the property for $8 million in a deal that closed in March 2006. They applied to Garfield County to develop 93 homesites. Neighbors mounted a well-organized campaign against the number of homes. The county Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the plan, but Garfield County commissioners denied it 2-1 in an Oct. 13 vote that surprised most observers.

Commissioners John Martin and Tresi Houpt voted against the project; Larry McCown was in favor.

“The swing vote was John Martin,” Amsden said. “I really believe it was a politically-motivated vote.”

Martin was engaged in a tough re-election campaign at the time. He won another term by a narrow margin in the Nov. 4 election.

Amsden said the investment group didn’t want to challenge the decision with a lawsuit. A challenge needed to be filed within 30 days. They also ruled against submitting a new development plan. Amsden said it would have been impossible to accomplish their goals and appease the opposition while still making a profit.

The investors’ development proposal included preserving a 230-acre pasture and maintaining the cattle grazing that has occurred there for decades. The homesites were on the periphery of the meadow. Amsden said opponents of the plan wanted a drastically reduced number of houses on larger lots.

Missouri Heights resident David Myler said he and other foes were concerned about the impacts of the developers’ plan. The high density would have created too much traffic and light pollution, used too much water and adversely affected wildlife, Myler said. The foes felt the proposal wasn’t consistent with the surrounding neighborhood.

Becky Chase, a neighbor of the Hunt Ranch, said the “for sale” signs went up roughly two weeks ago. “I guess I was a little surprised,” she said. She was uncertain if the owners gave up on their development plan or if they were just testing the waters for a possible sale.

Chase and Myler both said they hope any prospective buyer will work with the neighbors before submitting a development application.

Amsden said two types of buyers will be interested in the property ” ones exploring a “recreational amenity” development, like a private golf course, and ones eyeing a less-dense, more luxurious development.

How either scenario would affect the cattle ranch is uncertain. For now, the ranch is still cow heaven. Amsden said a lease was extended with Tony Gross, who lives on Hunt Ranch and runs a cattle operation there. His 10-year lease expired but Gross signed a five-year extension. Gross recently brought 130-head of cattle to the property for the winter, according to Amsden.

The investors are confident they will be able to sell the property, despite the tough economic climate. The Hunt Ranch is unlike any other property, Amsden said. It’s large, with stunning views and a convenient location off a county road close to Highway 82, he noted.

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