Plan to conserve Carbondale-area ranch needs detail |

Plan to conserve Carbondale-area ranch needs detail

A unique, $10 million agreement to conserve most of a large ranch in the Crystal River Valley needs a lot more detail before it can be approved.

That was the upshot Tuesday after Pitkin County commissioners and members of the county’s Open Space and Trails Board met to discuss the 1,240-acre Sunfire Ranch and the $10 million conservation easement the county board tentatively approved in January.

“It’s hard for me to visualize the end result … if everything comes to pass,” Commissioner George Newman said.

Sunfire Ranch is located a few miles south of Carbondale on Thompson Creek as it comes out of Thompson Canyon, just upstream from the confluence of Thompson Creek and the Crystal River. It has been owned by the Sewell family since the original homestead document was registered in 1893.

Currently, the property is divided into 29 separate parcels of 35 acres apiece. Each parcel has a development right to build a home with a maximum of 5,750 square feet plus agricultural buildings, according to a memo from the county’s Community Development Department.

If completely built-out, that translates to 166,750 total square feet of residential floor area plus 210,000 square feet of agricultural floor area, the memo states. About 30% of those sites would be available from Highway 133.

In exchange for a $10 million conservation easement from Pitkin County and others, the Sewell family has proposed moving all development off the high ground ­— which also is wildlife habitat — and consolidating it on a bench on a lower portion of the property nearer to Highway 133.

Of the $10 million, $8.9 million is to come from Pitkin County’s Open Space Fund, while $1 million will come from the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund, known as GOCO, and $100,000 from the Aspen Valley Land Trust.

In exchange for consolidating the development, the Sewell family is asking the county for six free-market home lots, two off-grid cabins, the possibility of future tourist accommodations, protection of historic agricultural resources, agricultural housing and staff housing, possible educational and research facilities, a restaurant and/or bar, a retail sale facility and a farm stand, according to the memo.

The sheer number of proposed uses caused consternation among commissioners and Open Space and Trails Board members.

Graeme Means, an OST Board member, said the exact uses must be spelled out.

“They need to be defined … so it doesn’t get out of hand in some way,” Means said. “There’s so many different uses.”

Michael Kinsley, another OST board member, wanted to know exactly what the impacts of all the proposals would be.

Their fellow board member, Amy Barrow, said she wants to make sure the boards are not approving the same amount of development the Sewells are currently allowed.

“(We need to be) careful what we’re trading for,” she said.

Overall, however, members of both boards praised Jason Sewell, a fifth-generation resident of the Sunfire Ranch, for working with the county to preserve a large swath of the lower Crystal River Valley. A partnership like this has never been done before, said Dale Will, head of acquisition for the Open Space and Trails Program.

The proposal will be further refined over the coming months, then must be approved by the Open Space and Trails board and the Board of County Commissioners.


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