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Pitkin County backs off on public access piece of proposed land swap

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Pitkin County commissioners announced Wednesday they would modify the county’s counter proposal for a land swap involving two Carbondale-area properties by eliminating public access in an area identified as sensitive from a wildlife perspective.

Commissioner George Newman announced the move during the commissioner comment portion of the board’s agenda, but no broader discussion took place. The decision came after a closed-door commissioner discussion about the controversial land swap on Tuesday, Newman said.

Commissioners convened in executive session again Wednesday at the close of their public deliberations, identifying the land swap as one of the topics to be discussed.

The latest tack from the county comes after wildlife officials panned the county’s proposed creation of the Potato Bill Creek Open Space on the north flank of Mount Sopris. Public access to the area would have a detrimental effect on wildlife, including bighorn sheep, according to Kevin Wright, district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Commissioners have agreed to take public access to the open space off the table, Newman said, but the county still wants to ensure the trade is “fair and equitable” to the public.

“Certainly we had not committed to an access … but it was certainly a concept,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield. “Now that we’ve taken the biggest obstacle out of the way … our proposal is a very positive proposal.”

Landowners Leslie and Abigail Wexner had rejected the county plan, citing the detrimental impacts public open space would have on wildlife and the agricultural operations of their Two Shoes Ranch. The Wexners have proposed turning over the 520-acre Sutey Ranch, south of Carbondale, to the Bureau of Land Management in exchange for 1,268 acres of BLM property abutting Two Shoes.

The county’s counter proposal carved out the open space, combining some BLM land and existing county open space with 536 acres from Two Shoes Ranch to create the Potato Bill Creek Open Space, preserving public access to the north flank of Sopris and better equalizing the acreages involved in the trade. The Wexners countered by offering to expand the land they would put into conservation to encompass the sensitive Potato Bill Creek area.

Aspen attorney Gideon Kaufman, representing the Wexners, said Wednesday he had not been informed of the county’s latest position.

Left unclear on Wednesday was whether or not commissioners were still proposing creation of publicly owned open space, but without the potential for public access.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Kaufman said.

The Wexners intend to seek congressional approval of the land trade, but have had no luck winning an endorsement of the swap from Pitkin County. The impasse has led to a series of proposals and counter proposals as the two sides try to reach a deal acceptable to both.

janet@aspentimes.com


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