Pitkin County commissioner laments outcome of land swap negotiations
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Pitkin County has lost “a wonderful opportunity” in failing to reach an agreement with landowners Leslie and Abigail Wexner for a proposed swap of two Carbondale-area properties, county Commissioner Jack Hatfield said Wednesday.
Hatfield expressed his thoughts on the outcome of the negotiations during the commissioner comment portion of the board’s meeting, and expressed hope that there is still room for both sides to reach a deal.
“I hope one side or the other at least puts out a feeler: Is there anything else we can do?” he said. “If not, we have lost a wonderful opportunity.”
Talks broke down earlier this month, and the Wexners withdrew their request for the county’s support of the swap, for which they intended to seek congressional approval. The Wexners offered to turn the 520-acre Sutey Ranch in Garfield County over to the Bureau of Land Management in exchange for 1,268 acres of BLM land abutting their Two Shoes Ranch, on the north flank of Mount Sopris, in Pitkin County.
“A deal evolved that I found [to be] a pretty significant benefit to the residents of Pitkin County, as well as many species of wildlife,” said Hatfield, ticking off a list of extras that won’t be realized if the deal that was on the table does not go through. “The benefits far outweigh the loss of some public lands.”
In addition to various offers made by the Wexners to sweeten the deal, including eliminating 72,500 square feet of approved development on their ranch, a $1 million endowment for the Sutey Ranch, conservation protection for both parcels and other perks that had already been made public, the Wexners had offered an additional $1.2 million for land acquisition and hunting access at Two Shoes for youths and disabled veterans, he said.
“I think the proponents certainly started off on the wrong foot by organizing the world to come in and lobby us,” Hatfield said in his assessment. Commissioners “fumbled the ball a bit themselves, and I participated in that,” he added, lamenting the delay that resulted when the matter was referred to the county Open Space and Trails board.
The Wexners can still seek congressional approval of the swap, Commissioner Rachel Richards responded. What would become of the additional offers put on the table to gain the county’s support is less clear.
And, she noted, the BLM parcel remains open to hunting by all members of the public if the trade does not go through.
“This has been a tough decision for all of us,” Richards said. “I think the board stood on principles related to the sale and disposal of public lands.”
With no appraisal that would take into account the value the BLM land would bring to Two Shoes Ranch, it was difficult to assess the trade, Richards said.
“To me, that left Pitkin County in a position to grasp at straws, grasp at a determination of fair value,” she said.
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