Land use, threats and video in Pitco | AspenTimes.com
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Land use, threats and video in Pitco

Brent Gardner-Smith

The Droste family is distributing a well-produced video urging citizens to lobby the Pitkin County Commissioners to approve a land-use application or risk losing conservation easements on 600 acres of sensitive wildlife habitat.

The video’s professional-sounding narrator intones at the end of the seven-minute video that “now it’s up to the people of Pitkin County and Snowmass Village to send a clear message to those officials that they don’t want to jeopardize those easements.”

The title of the video is “When Good Faith Agreements Go Bad.” The video opens with shots of the nation’s Capitol against a background of waving flags. Then it alternates between interviews of Mary Droste, her son, Peter Droste, their attorney, Wayne Schroeder and former Snowmass Village Mayor Ted Grenda, and aerial shots of their land.

It’s the latest twist in a contentious relationship between the Droste family and local governments. As the label on the video states: “On Dec. 19 at 3 p.m., Pitkin County will hold a 1041 review hearing to decide the fate of an application by the Droste family to build a driveway from Brush Creek Road to the top of their ranch property.”

The Drostes are claiming that if the county denies their application to build a $4 million, two-mile-long driveway to a 15,000-square-foot house, then they will claim that there has been both a taking of private property and a breach of contract of two previous agreements creating conservation easements.

On Dec. 19, county assistant planning director Lance Clarke will conduct a hearing on the applications for the road and the house. And while Clarke has yet to make a determination, he does note that the road and the building site are in critical wildlife habitat, where building is prohibited by the county.

“Staff does see this as a very important piece of property,” said Clarke. “It is a large piece of property and a very well-known piece of property because of the work that has gone into buying the conservation easements.”

“If that guy turns down the road, what they are biting off is a breach of the ’96 and ’99 conservation easements,” Peter Droste said.

The Droste property encompasses most of the land between Brush Creek Road and the top of the homesites in the Owl Creek Valley behind the picturesque red barn.

In 1996, a 100-acre conservation easement was purchased by the county. In 1999, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County paid $7.5 million for a 500-acre conservation easement. That left a 304-acre parcel on top of the ridge between the two valleys with the potential for up to 20 homesites, worth up to $200 million or more.

“We agreed to forego development in the valley so we could develop on the ridge,” Droste said in the video, inferring that is the “good faith agreement” that might be broken on Dec. 19.

Citing evidence of the county’s intent, the Drostes point out that the parcel now in question was labeled in the conservation easement agreements as the “Droste Future Development Lands,” and that language in the 1999 agreement states that “one access road to the Droste Future Development Lands” is “consistent with this conversation easement.”

The county begs to differ.

“They sold the developable land” when they agreed to the conservation easement, said County Commissioner Mick Ireland after watching the video. “And now they are saying, `Let us build on the undevelopable land.'”

Shellie Roy, the current chair of the county board, concurred.

“We told them we wouldn’t support the houses on top of the ridge,” Harper said.

When asked about the label of “Droste Future Development Land,” Ireland said, “That’s what they called it.”

This position does not please Peter Droste.

“They’ve gotten their cake,” he said. “Now they want my cake, too.”

While the applications to be reviewed on Dec. 19 are for the road and a 15,000-square-foot house, all parties agree that the road will also provide access for another 20 potential homesites.

“We do have other property up there and we haven’t made any secret that we will be bringing in other applications,” said Francis Krizmanich, the Drostes’ land-use consultant on the project.

While the Drostes are taking an aggressive approach to gaining approval from Pitkin County, they say they are open to negotiation.

“We don’t need 20 homesites,” Droste said. “I would take less up there.”

But he’s also quick to point out that he views denying access to the potential homesites on the ridge as a clear taking of private property.

“If we’re denied the road, it is a taking,” he said. “And if the road is approved, and the house lot is not, they will still have to buy the house lots.”

As for the video, it’s unclear what level of distribution the Drostes plan. Representatives at Grassroots and Channel 16 said they had not been contacted about airing it, although it seems produced for a wide local audience.

After watching the video, which could easily have cost $5,000 to make, three county commissioners were left shaking their heads.

“When enough money is at stake, people will resort to any tactic,” said Ireland. “This is even more expensive than a special election to get your way.”


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