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Pitkin County: Land swap proposal will get public airing

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Pitkin County commissioners are willing to entertain a new proposal for the controversial Sutey Ranch-BLM land trade, but they want to hold the discussion in public.

Proponents of the swap had requested a private meeting to present their latest pitch, and commissioners spent considerable time Tuesday discussing whether to meet with attorney Gideon Kaufman and Andy Wiessner of Western Land Group – either behind closed doors or in a public session – to hear the new proposal. Kaufman and Wiessner represent landowner Leslie Wexner, who has proposed the swap.

Neither Kaufman nor Wiessner attended Tuesday’s meeting – both were out of town – but Kaufman said later that they requested an executive session because they thought the commissioners would prefer that approach.

“We are very happy to have the discussion open to the public and in a public forum,” Kaufman said.

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Some commissioners questioned the timing of a February meeting with Wexner’s representatives, given that the Carbondale Town Board has set a March 2 meeting to discuss Wexner’s original proposal and Pitkin County’s counter proposal. Garfield and Pitkin County commissioners, representatives of the Bureau of Land Management, and Colorado Division of Wildlife officials have all been invited.

What impact a new proposal from Wexner will have on that discussion is unclear.

Local planning consultant Glenn Horn, who attended Tuesday’s commissioner work session, said he has been hired to work on the new proposal. He did not offer any details, but said: “We’re working on what I think is a very attractive package that would be in the community’s interest.”

The land swap has been a matter of discussion for about a year. Wexner originally proposed trading the 520-acre Sutey Ranch, north of Carbondale, to the BLM in exchange for 1,268 acres of BLM land on the north flank of Mount Sopris. The BLM acreage would consolidate his existing landholdings at the base of Sopris, near Carbondale.

Wexner purchased the scenic and wildlife-sensitive Sutey Ranch with the trade in mind, intending to seek congressional approval of the swap. Pitkin County has remained a holdout in supporting the trade, but commissioners recently endorsed an alternative idea that would give Wexner 873 acres of the BLM land he desires in exchange for the Sutey Ranch, but also carve out a piece of his Two Shoes Ranch for inclusion in a new open space parcel. The county’s goal is preserving and improving public access on the north flank of Sopris.

Wexner and his wife, Abigail, quickly rejected the county plan, calling the impacts of public open space and recreational use on what is currently the western part of their property incompatible with their cattle-ranching operation.

“The county’s proposal is still unacceptable,” Horn said Tuesday.

A date to discuss a new proposal from Wexner has not been scheduled. His representatives had requested a Feb. 16 discussion, but some commissioners pressed to have the proposal in writing in advance of the meeting. Horn said he didn’t think the material could be prepared in time to provide it to commissioners a week before a Feb. 16 meeting.

janet@aspentimes.com


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