Pitkin County commissioners weigh if they will guard the hen house
Board undecided about granting historic designation to 1920s farm buildings in Emma
What happens when the Pitkin County commissioners get into the hen house? Potentially, it will result in a better-informed decision on a proposal to historically designate a midvalley farm.
The commissioners couldn’t reach an agreement May 11 on a proposal to grant historical designation to three buildings on a century-old farm in Emma. Some felt it was worthwhile to trade incentives to coax preservation of the old buildings, while others thought the proposal was too steep of a price to pay.
So the commissioners will get out of the boardroom and into the farmyard June 6 to reassess their positions.
The farm in question was established by Joseph and Sidonie Dossigny in 1907. Their original house burned down and the current residence was built in 1925. A chicken coop and a barn were built about the same time as the house, all using board and batten siding.
“The Dossigny family was part of the numerous Italian immigrant families that left their country during difficult economic times and settled in the Valley, particularly the Emma/Basalt/Woody Creek area to farm and ranch,” according to an application submitted to the county.
Sarah Adams, a land use and historic planner, said the property helps paint a picture of what the immigrant farms and ranches were like in the Emma area. The house, barn and chicken coop are easy to see from Emma Road. Happy Day Ranch, with its classic brick Victorian house, and the former Cerise Ranch, known as Emma Farms, are just down the road. Italian immigrants also settled both of those homesteads.
The Dossigny family sold the farm in 1950. It changed hands a few times until purchased by the Zordell and Fite family, who owned it for decades.
The farm creates a nice break between the higher density subdivision of Horseshoe Drive and Orchard Estates.
Alex Sarratt and Lyn Segal purchased the property in 2021. They have the right to tear down the house, no questions asked. Pitkin County doesn’t have historic preservation requirements in its voluminous land use code. Instead, development incentives are typically offered when a property is deemed historically important. County historic preservation officer Suzannah Reid said the Dossigny farm is a good example of how Italian immigrants to the Roaring Fork Valley laid down roots in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Sarratt told the county commissioners last week that he didn’t know anything about conservation and historic preservation when he bought the farm. He and his partner are excited to live there, fix up some of the buildings and preserve the history.
“I think I feel very blessed to get this property,” Sarratt said.
The owners are proposing to avoid demolition or alterations of the three historic structures, which have changed very little over nearly 100 years. In return, they are seeking the designation of one transferable development right, which they would be able to sell. The application was initially for two transferable development rights but was reduced to one. The TDR market has exploded in recent years to prices well in excess of $1 million. It allows buyers to add up to 2,500 square feet of development in areas of the county that the government considers “receiving sites.”
Larry Fite, who grew up on the farm, spoke in favor of the preservation plan.
“It preserves the family farm the way it was and way it’s always been, long before we ever got there,” Fite said.
The proposal is in line with other historic preservation proposals in Emma. The owners of Emma Farms were awarded three TDRs in return for historic preservation of three structures in 2010. Also that year, the owner of Happy Day Ranch received one TDR in return for preserving the historic house.
But some of the county commissioners balked at last week’s meeting at granting aTDR for preservation of the Dossigny farm.
Commissioner Francie Jacober said she didn’t view the farm as “special” and didn’t support granting a TDR in return for preservation.
“It’s not ‘Happy Day(s),’” Jacober said.
Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury also said she was “struggling” to award a TDR in return for preserving a barn and chicken coop.
Commissioner Greg Poschman said he wasn’t sure he could support allowing the TDR, which could result in 2,500 square feet of extra construction at a location that is unknown.
Commissioner Patti Clapper countered that creating a TDR and allowing the owners to sell it provides the funds necessary to preserve and maintain the historic farmhouse and others buildings. She said the farm is representative of an important time in Pitkin County’s history.
Commissioner Steve Child, whose family has ranched for decades in the Roaring Fork Valley, said he would like to visit the site so he could get a better feel for the proposal and historic value of the site.
After visiting the site June 6, the commissioners plan on voting on the proposal at their June 22 meeting.
(Editor’s note: This article was corrected to show the updated application proposes one transferable development right in return for historic preservation of the house, barn and chicken coop.)
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