Pitkin County to put up $1.8M for open space
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – The allocation of $1.8 million toward the purchase of a $5 million open space parcel in the midvalley won approval Wednesday from Pitkin County commissioners, though a handful of neighbors voiced concerns about the parcel’s use under public ownership.
The Saltonstall property, about 145 acres off Hooks Spur Road in the Emma area, is under contract to three partners – Pitkin and Eagle counties and the town of Basalt. In addition, a conservation easement on a separate 25 acres along the Roaring Fork River is part of the deal.
Pitkin County will put $1.8 million toward the acquisition, while the Basalt Town Council endorsed a $500,000 contribution on Tuesday. A $2 million allocation from Eagle County, a hoped-for Great Outdoors Colorado grant and $50,000 from the Midvalley Trails Committee would make up the remainder of the $5 million, said Dale Will, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails director. July 2 is the deadline to arrange the funding.
The Saltonstall property, near the Pitkin County border in Eagle County, had been on the market for a couple of years, Will said.
“The more we looked at it, the more we realized that it had conservation values to Pitkin County as well as the midvalley as a whole,” he said.
The purchase meets all of the county Open Space and Trails program’s goals with attributes that include agricultural land, scenic value, wildlife habitat and recreational value, according to Will.
“This property is extraordinary in that it has significant values in all four of those areas,” he said.
Neighboring landowners, however, voiced fears about traffic on Hooks Spur Road, community agriculture that could include greenhouses or other pursuits beyond the land’s current use, and the impact of hikers and bikers who would have new access onto the Crown, a popular recreational area on Bureau of Land Management property. The Saltonstall land also connects to the paved Rio Grande Trail.
“There will be several hundreds of users on this property per day,” neighbor Michael Davies predicted. The recreational use will disturb deer and elk that remain on the Crown during the summer, he said, undermining the wildlife value of the property.
His brother, Brian Davies, asked commissioners to eliminate parking as a use on the parcel and to restrict agricultural uses to those that have traditionally taken place there.
Area resident Sally Cole expressed worry that increased use of the property would lead to paving Hooks Spur Road, which she opposes.
Neighboring landowner Greg Erwin, however, said he believes there is room for parking on the property and said he’d be open to use of a trail leading onto the Crown by hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians and dogs.
Recreational use of the property will conform to open space regulations (no motorized uses) and whatever restrictions come out of the BLM’s Resource Management Plan with regard to the Crown, including wintertime closures, Will said.
Uses of the property will be defined through a master-plan process, commissioners stressed, declining to set limitations before the sale is even finalized.
“Your concerns are not lost because they’re not addressed at this exact time,” Commissioner Rachel Richards told neighbors, though she noted she would have difficulty eliminating the potential for greenhouses when neighbors have the right to such structures.
Commissioner Jack Hatfield, on the other hand, said recreational access shouldn’t be considered a foregone conclusion.
“I don’t want to buy this with the understanding that there will absolutely be access here,” he said.
Commissioners voted 4-0, with Rob Ittner absent, to approve putting $1.8 million toward the purchase.
They also agreed, at Richards’ urging, to give residents in two trailers on the property time to find new accommodations. The contract proposed by the seller ensured the trailers would be vacated when the government partnership takes possession of the parcel, but Richards said the county should show greater leniency. Eagle County and Basalt also would have to agree.
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