Score one for the cows | AspenTimes.com

Score one for the cows

Cows graze on the north and south sides of Highway 82 on the Grange Range just downvalley from Basalt. A proposed deal between the ranchers and three local governments could preserve the view forever. (Courtesy Dale Will/Pitkin County Open Space and Trails)

Basalt will keep cows rather than condos on its western edge if a deal eyed by the town and two county governments proves successful.The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program signed a contract Thursday to buy conservation easements on the 246-acre Grange Ranch for $5 million, according to program director Dale Will. Basalt town government pledged funds, and the Eagle County open space program is considering a contribution.”It’s a grand slam deal for everybody involved,” said Basalt Town Councilman Chris Seldin.The ranch is just west, or downvalley, from Big O Tires in Basalt. It stretches from the lower slopes of Light Hill on the south to the Roaring Fork River on the north side of Highway 82.

Will said the property is valuable as a working ranch, wildlife habitat and a rural buffer around Basalt. He called it one of the best conservation projects he’s seen. “How could such a project be more perfect?” he asked.Under the terms of the deal, the Granges would surrender nearly all the development rights on land. They would keep two existing homes and retain rights to build a third house and three accessory units, one at each residential site. The agreement ensures the property will remain open space forever and a working ranch for as long as the Granges choose.The ranch has been in the family since the early 1900s. Billy Grange said his grandfather bought the land around 1918. Billy now operates the cattle ranch with two of his nephews, who represent the fourth generation to work the land.They are one of the last families in Pitkin County that depend on ranching for a living.Pitkin County is putting about $3 million into the purchase, assuming the county commissioners approve the expenditure. The town of Basalt has pledged $250,000. The Eagle County open space program is considering a contribution of $1.75 million. The coalition hopes to score a state grant to cover the remainder, according to Will. The county has until Nov. 30 to raise the funds.

Pitkin County Open Space and Trails and Aspen Valley Land Trust would hold the conservation easements.While most of the deal involves conservation easements, the Granges would sell the government 15 acres on the Roaring Fork River. About 13 percent of the ranch is in Eagle County, including the riverfront land. Because the river corridor is so ecologically valuable, the Eagle County open space staff is advising its board to commit more than 13 percent of the funds.Basalt pledged $250,000 from its general fund. If voters approve a 1 percent sales tax increase in this November’s election, additional funds could be donated to the cause, according to Basalt Town Manager Bill Efting. He said the Basalt Town Council members strongly support the acquisition.”It’s probably the most visible open space in the valley along Highway 82, close to Basalt,” Efting said.

Basalt’s land use master plan doesn’t contemplate the level of development possible on the property because Grange has always told town officials he wasn’t going to sell to developers any time soon. However, that type of property makes developers salivate. Down the road on a similarly sized piece of property there is an application for 245 residences and 93,000 square feet of commercial space.”If you do the math, the numbers are huge” on the Grange property, Efting said.Seldin credited the Grange family for working with the governments to preserve the land. That helps the town work toward its goal of retaining a rural buffer around the town. That buffer, in turn, helps Basalt keep its small-town character, Seldin said.The downvalley edge of the Grange property is contiguous to another 70-acre open space parcel. The Grange deal will ensure the south side of Highway 82 from Big O Tires to the Emma area remains undeveloped.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.