Longtime ranch owners object to Basalt master plan’s view of their property
The Meyer family has owned and operated a 180-acre ranch on the edge of Basalt for 59 years. Ownership has passed from one generation to the next and it’s inching closer to another transition.
Through the six decades, the family has been patient about pursuing development, but the latest Basalt master planning process is trying that patience, said Trish Meyer, matriarch of the family.
“At the last open house, people were given poker chips to choose what to do with our land,” Meyer told Basalt Town Council on Tuesday evening. “This isn’t a game to us. This is our home and these are our lives and our future.”
The family was given the opportunity to express their concerns to council before the master plan — a blueprint for Basalt’s future growth — gets finalized this spring. Meyer said she wanted the board to know that the family has a different vision for their land and that they will likely submit a proposal soon.
Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer said the Meyer family’s situation is a spin on the usual scenario that plays out in land-use discussions. Usually neighbors of a development site contend they don’t have control over what happens in their backyard. In this case, it is the landowners who feel helpless as planners and citizens plot what to do with their land, she noted.
The late Guido Meyer Sr., an Aspen magistrate who was famous or infamous for detesting hippies who invaded the town in the 1960s, bought the Basalt ranch in 1961.
“He was offered the opportunity to put in a trailer park for the workers that were building Ruedi dam,” Trish Meyer told council. He declined in favor of keeping the property as a working ranch. The family runs cattle on the land and has a tree farm.
“We feel we’ve been good stewards of the land,” Meyer said
Trish and her husband, Guido Jr., who died in 2017 while working the ranch on his tractor, contributed to multiple community causes — providing land for a water tank, the Rio Grande Trail, realignment of Highway 82, Fishermen’s Park and Roaring Fork River access.
“Meanwhile we have been surrounded on two sides by Elk Run (subdivision) and the flagpole annexation of the Roaring Fork Club,” Meyer said.
Elk Run was developed along the ranch’s western border. The Roaring Fork golf and fishing club is to the east.
Trish said her husband tried to work with public officials for 30 years on various proposals that would keep the ranch economically sustainable. Prior to the creation of Basalt’s last master plan in 2007, the family proposed what she called an ecologically based, sustainable residential community centered on a working ranch. The family was told to wait for the master plan process to conclude before proposing a plan.
What happened, she said, was Basalt officials settled on an urban growth boundary that looks like a jigsaw puzzle. The urban growth boundary determines where the town will extend its services. The 2007 plan created an “arbitrary line” that excluded most of the Meyer’s property but allows development on a 17-acre triangle on the southwest corner, closest to Two Rivers Road. But an important part of the Meyers plan — providing home sites for Trish and Guido’s adult children — is on land currently outside of the growth boundary. Meyer said she doesn’t understand why that line has to be “set in stone.”
“This rollercoaster has gone on for more than a generation now,” Meyer told council. “Our family made a decision going into this process that we were willing to work with the town one more time to try to create a solution before pursuing other options. We need a financially sustainable plan to keep this land in agricultural use, which is also in line with the wishes of the community.”
The proposed master plan explains why the property is important: “Occupying high-value hillside land that offers views and open space, while being the last unincorporated gap along Highway 82 frontage creates opportunities to meet the public vision goals. These include promoting density instead of sprawl, conserving open space and potentially supplying a mix of housing types.”
Some aspects of the proposed master plan and the Meyer family’s plan are similar. The master plan presents two possible scenarios — one with development contained on the 17 areas in the southwest corner and a second with more units and uses extending to other parts of the property.
Members of the public who attended an open house earlier this winter got to use poker chips to show which plan they favored. The contained development concept was overwhelmingly favored. It would allow about 69 medium density residential units, 66 affordable housing units, open space, space for a “public facility” and a bicycle and walking trail that would connect Elk Run with federal public land near the popular Arbaney-Kittle Trail, alongside the cemetery and its approach road.
The concepts in the proposed master plan spurred the Meyer family to prepare its own, detailed conceptual plan. It has about the same number of units as the lower-density alternative in the master plan.
Multi-family units are proposed along Two Rivers Road, then it tapers off to townhouses and finally less-dense single-family homes closer to the pastures. Their plan includes space for a civic amenity, an active park and a buffer of spruce trees between their development and Elk Run.
A critical part of the family’s plan is placement of two-acre lots northwest of the cemetery. Three to five lots would be reserved for the family’s construction of homes.
“We feel there are many positive opportunities and infill rather than sprawl development such as this could create for the town,” said Tom Newland, a land-use planner working with the Meyer family. “For example, the Meyers are interested in the mixed income development concept highlighted during the master plan process, as it is similar to their vision of a development that promotes diversity and inclusion by providing housing for all income levels and age brackets.”
Tuesday’s council meeting was not intended to resolve the issue. Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said the master plan would not be the definitive word on what the Meyers family can do. That will be settled in face-to-face negotiations, with equal representation for the town and family, she said.
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