Sutey Ranch land swap now in open space board’s lap
August 5, 2009
ASPEN – Pitkin County commissioners declined Tuesday to meet behind closed doors to further negotiate the proposed swap of 1,268 acres of land at the base of Mount Sopris for the 513-acre Sutey Ranch north of Carbondale.
Commissioner Jack Hatfield suggested meeting with representatives of billionaire retailer Leslie Wexner, who has proposed the land exchange, but his colleagues balked. Hatfield said attorney Gideon Kaufman, representing Wexner, called him to suggest the closed meeting, as Hatfield had indicated a willingness to negotiate.
“To me, the door is open, and I’d like to hear what he has to say,” Hatfield said. “I just think all we’re doing is stonewalling if we don’t meet with them.”
Commissioners and the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board met jointly in public last month to discuss the controversial exchange, but took no action on a resolution opposing the trade. Commissioners want a formal recommendation from the open space and trails board on the matter.
“We said it needs to go to the open space board … for the open space board to have a public discussion,” Commissioner Patti Clapper said.
The county attorney has made it “abundantly clear” it should go to the open space board for a recommendation as the next step, County Manager Hilary Fletcher said.
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The open space board does intend to discuss the swap when it meets Thursday, but the matter is slated for executive session, which is closed to the public. Dale Will, open space and trails director, said he anticipates the board will come out of executive decision and take action in a public session.
The board won’t be discussing anything that hasn’t already been made public in terms of the proposed swap, according to Andy Wiessner of Western Land Group, which is brokering the deal. The proposal discussed in public in July is what is on the table, he said Tuesday.
“I don’t understand the need for executive sessions,” he said.
Commissioner Michael Owsley was adamantly opposed to meeting with Wexner’s representatives behind closed doors.
“That’s exactly where I don’t want to be with Gideon Kaufman and Andy Wiessner,” he said.
Such a meeting would not be in the public interest, Owsley said.
Wexner’s representatives want to secure support from Pitkin County for the swap before seeking congressional approval. The deal would fold Bureau of Land Management property into Wexner’s existing landholdings at the base of Sopris, outside of Carbondale, and put the Sutey Ranch, located north of the Red Hill recreation area near Carbondale, into the public realm. The BLM land is it Pitkin County; Sutey Ranch is in Garfield County and is, proponents of the swap note, ripe for development if the deal does not go through.
Conservation easements would prevent development on both parcels if the swap is approved.