Snowmass ponders plan for homes near Owl Creek |

Snowmass ponders plan for homes near Owl Creek

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The owners of the 305-acre Seven Star Ranch property that straddles the ridge between Owl Creek Road and Brush Creek Road want approval for two homesites up on the hillside overlooking Snowmass Village.

If they don’t get them, their planner told the Snowmass Village Town Council yesterday that they would likely propose three visually obtrusive homesites on land alongside Brush Creek just outside of the town’s boundaries.

But in order to get to the two proposed homesites on the hillside, the Town Council is being asked to approve a narrow, winding, steep road that cuts through the heart of a key elk and deer migration route.

The proposal prompted an unusually strong reaction yesterday from veteran Councilman Doug Mercatoris.

“I think this is a horrible place for development,” he said. “It is really bad from a wildlife standpoint.”

Mercatoris said the best solution would be to get the land in the public’s hands by purchasing the Seven Star Ranch and leaving it undeveloped.

“We know the best thing that can happen is nothing,” he said.

And he asked Kevin Wright, the local district manager for the Colorado Department of Wildlife, to give the town manager the names of everyone between Wright and Gov. Bill Owens who the town could talk to about setting the land aside.

Wright said he had already proposed to the state agency that it consider buying both the Seven Star Ranch and the adjacent Droste property, but that the land values in this area are too high.

“Other properties came out ahead,” Wright said.

The Snowmass Town Council and Pitkin County have been working for almost a decade to find alternatives to the development of the Seven Star property.

Joe Wells, the land-use planner for the Milvenan Family First Limited Partnership, a Texas concern, told the town that the owners were pursuing development up on the mesa because of an earlier agreement with Pitkin County.

The county bought 145 acres of the Seven Star Ranch on the valley floor to prevent six homesites from being developed and, Wells said, directed Seven Star to pursue alternative access routes to homesites on the ridge.

Wells has been working for years to obtain the right to gain access to the ridge through the Owl Creek Ranch property but has been unsuccessful.

Now, the Milvenan family, which purchased the Seven Star Ranch two years ago for approximately $2.6 million, has come forward with a revised proposal with a new access road, or driveway, which would eventually lead to two 11,500-square-foot homes and two barns.

The road is proposed to leave Owl Creek Road just above the town’s maintenance facility across from the entrance to The Pines subdivision. Then the road would quickly switchback up the hillside, with grades up to 12 percent. By comparison, Snowmelt Road leading up to the Snowmass mall is 14 percent.

The road would also require a series of retaining walls, some as high as 30 feet, which could be barriers for deer and elk moving each spring and fall between their winter and summer ranges.

“I don’t know how those animals are going to get through,” Wright said, adding that the wildlife migration corridor is already shrinking from development pressure.

The council wanted Wright’s opinion about whether the proposed road coming off Owl Creek Road would be worse than a road proposed by Peter Droste to come off of Brush Creek Road and then wind its way back and forth up to the top of the ridge, where the land flattens out.

Wright said it was a difficult choice, because while the Droste road might be a little better from a wildlife standpoint, that road could also mean that up to 12 homesites would be developed on the Droste property.

“It just all depends on what it leads to,” Wright said.

Droste has sued Pitkin County for denying him the right to build the road and develop his property. The suit is being heard by the state court of appeals.

Wright said a better choice for access to the proposed building sites, at least as far as wildlife is concerned, would be through Hidden Valley off of Highland Road, which runs between Owl Creek Road and Brush Creek Road. But Hidden Valley is a narrow valley where the town’s cemetery is located, and it is not likely that a road through there could be built without disturbing the cemetery.

The council took no formal action and plans to consider the Seven Star proposal again on Monday, Jan. 13.

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is]

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