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Proposal to buy open space has both pros, cons

Bob Ward
The Aspen Times

Presented with a strong recommendation to buy a midvalley ranch for public open space, the Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners had mixed opinions.

Some commissioners steadfastly supported the idea of buying the 137-acre Glassier Ranch near Emma to secure Roaring Fork River frontage in public hands and to avert yet another conversion of agricultural land to pavement and single-family homes.

But other commissioners were skeptical about spending more than $2.9 million for a property that lies entirely within neighboring Eagle County and about using public money to buy and preserve private agricultural land.

After about an hour of discussion about the $5.9 million Glassier Ranch purchase, which Eagle and Pitkin counties would split evenly, commissioners voted 5-0 on the first of two readings to support the purchase. But the unanimous vote masked some differences of opinion that could lead to a different outcome Aug. 14, when the proposed deal comes back to the board again.

Dale Will, director of the county’s Open Space and Trails Program, worked for several years on the agreement to acquire the Glassier property, which abuts the recently purchased, 145-acre Red Ridge Ranch. Between the two properties, Will told commissioners, “We would end up with open space of 282 acres” stretching from the Roaring Fork onto the 8,000-foot Crown.

There is no specific plan yet for eventual uses on the property, but Will did mention that the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies has expressed interest in joint educational and farming activities to complement existing programs at ACES’ nearby Rock Bottom Ranch. Will intends to solicit Great Outdoors Colorado for a $1 million contribution toward the purchase, noting that the state organization donated $600,000 toward the Red Ridge deal.

“(Great Outdoors Colorado) likes to see these projects build on one another and reach a landscape scale,” Will said.

Commissioner Rachel Richards applauded Will’s efforts and said such purchases are essential to prevent the “leapfrog development” that has occupied much of the midvalley floor already. She also liked the collaboration with Eagle County, calling the proposed Glassier deal “a new step in what has been a developing and rich partnership.”

Commissioner George Newman agreed with Richards, but Commissioner Michael Owsley spoke forcefully against the idea of Pitkin County spending its open space funds on out-of-county parcels.

“I’m not here to rescue Eagle County or Garfield County from their (land-use) choices,” Owsley said.

Commissioner Rob Ittner was similarly skeptical and pushed to ensure that Eagle County’s 50 percent share of the funding applied to every aspect of the deal, including the $25,000 closing costs. Commissioner Steve Child was hesitant for different reasons, questioning the idea of Pitkin County buying private property simply to preserve it. He suggested eventually “putting a conservation easement on it and selling it to a private individual to manage and take care of it.”

In the end, all five commissioners voted to move the deal forward to the second of two readings. On Aug. 14, members of the public will be allowed to share their opinions with the board before the deal comes to a final vote.


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