Pitkin County mulls sweetened deal for Sutey land swap
ASPEN – Representatives of a Carbondale-area landowner who’s seeking Pitkin County’s support for a proposed federal land swap sweetened the deal to the tune of $1 million in a presentation to the county’s Open Space and Trails Board on Thursday.
Pitkin County has thus far withheld its blessing for a trade that would bring the 513-acre Sutey Ranch into public hands in exchange for 1,268 acres of Bureau of Land Management property on the north flank of Mount Sopris, outside of Carbondale. The Sutey property is located north of the Red Hill recreation area, also near Carbondale.
Billionaire retailer Leslie Wexner purchased the Sutey Ranch for $6.5 million with the trade in mind, hoping to add the BLM acreage to his adjacent Two Shoes Ranch landholdings.
With Pitkin County the sole holdout among local governments that have been asked to endorse the swap, Wexner’s representatives outlined a proposal they hope will make the trade more palatable to the open space board and, ultimately, county commissioners. Support from the county is considered crucial to winning congressional approval of the land trade.
The latest offer includes $750,000 to be donated to the county Open Space and Trails Program for land it has identified as desirable (details about the property were not made public), plus $100,000 toward the county’s costs in restoring the historic Emma store buildings and $100,000 for historic preservation efforts in Redstone. In addition, $50,000 will go to the BLM for development of a management plan for the Sutey Ranch property, which would become part of the agency’s holdings through the trade.
“That should ensure that the BLM can hit the ground running with its planning effort,” said Andy Wiessner of Western Land Group, which is brokering the deal.
In addition, “no precedent” language will be added to the proposed legislation authorizing the trade to address the county’s concern that the deal will lead to the privatization of other federal lands in Pitkin County.
The financial contributions, Wiessner said, are meant to address previously expressed concerns about the BLM’s ability to manage the Sutey Ranch, should it come under the agency’s purview, and another sticking point for some county officials: What’s in it for Pitkin County? The BLM land that would go to Wexner is in Pitkin County, but the land he has offered up in trade – the Sutey Ranch – is located in Garfield County.
Open space board members did not debate the new proposal in public on Thursday, and chairman Hawk Greenway suggested the board would want to discuss it in executive session, out of the public eye.
Wiessner and attorney Gideon Kaufman, also representing Wexner, urged the board to discuss the proposal in public and make a recommendation one way or the other to commissioners.
“This isn’t a negotiation,” Kaufman said. “The fact that some of you are uncomfortable talking in front of us isn’t justification for an executive session.
“I think its only fair for the public to be privy to your thought process,” he added.
Kaufman said he hopes to get the proposed swap introduced in Congress this fall or early next year, with the expectation that Congress may act on it by next fall.
Greenway said the board would try to fit the proposal onto the agenda at its Oct. 15 meeting, and member Tim McFlynn said he expects individual board members to explain their stand on the proposal in public before they take a formal vote on a recommendation to commissioners.
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