Three-way land swap up to Pitkin County voters
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” The three-way land swap known as the Ryan Parcel Exchange will be decided by voters on Nov. 4, following formal approval of the deal by the Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday.
But while the commissioners clearly expected that the formal approval would sail through without comment, two critics of the deal quashed those expectations.
The exchange, which has been on the county’s wish list for roughly 20 years, will mean that:
– A 35-acre parcel in the upper Castle Creek Valley known as the Ryan parcel, which was purchased by the county and the Aspen Valley Land Trust to keep it out of the hands of developers, will be turned over to the U.S. Forest Service, as will two 10-acre mining claim in-holdings currently owned by the county. According to a historical overview of the Ryan parcel by county Open Space and Trails Director Dale Will, it was “the first home of the U.S. Army’s elite 10th Mountain Division in Colorado, and the historic stone tent platforms built during [World War II] are still there.”
– The county will take title to a 40-acre tract spanning the Crystal River, “long eyed for disposal by the BLM [Bureau of Land Management],” according to Will; 12 “patent remnants,” or old mining claims, within the Smuggler Mountain Open Space; and the 8.4-acre “Means Cabin site,” also known as the Wildwood parcel.
The Means Cabin site, which is situated at the entrance of the Difficult Campground area just east of Aspen, is to be sold to a private developer for slightly more than $2 million. As part of that deal, the county will get a trail easement to complete the East of Aspen Trail and fishing access to the Roaring Fork River.
Voter approval is needed because county open space funds were used to buy the Ryan parcel in the 1990s, and the county’s charter required voter approval before any land bought with open space money can be sold or otherwise transferred out of public ownership.
The trade is not without its critics, though. Longtime local residents Shana Gregory and Judy Goss objected to the low sale price on the Means Cabin site, and to the fact that the site soon will be occupied by a 3,350-square-foot house.
Why, asked Gregory, is the parcel being sold for “way below market value,” when neighboring parcels of similar sizes are selling for much more.
“We had some issues around values,” said Commissioner Patti Clapper, who has been actively advocating the swap for years, and in 2005 testified before Congress to push for approval of the Pitkin County Land Exchange Act, which was passed in 2006 and enables the land exchange to occur.
In her remarks before Congress, she spoke of “a request for a small language change in the bill regarding the appraisal of one parcel.”
But, according to Clapper and other officials, the act as passed called for an appraisal by the U.S. Forest Service rather than local real estate experts, and there were no options other than that.
Goss, asking whether the commissioners feel that “public land should be used for private enterprise,” told a reporter that the public at large should have been given a chance to bid on the parcel.
“We haven’t been given the opportunity,” she said, “and these guys are going to make a killing.”
As for the land’s fate, she said, “It should be left alone.”
In other action, the county commissioners gave approval for two new open space acquisitions, one of which is related to the Ryan Parcel deal.
The Sawmill Hill purchase, in which the county open space program plans to buy approximately 266 acres of land above Redstone for a cash payment of $1.75 million, along with seven transferable development rights, is linked to the Ryan parcel deal financially. According to open space officials, the $2 million in proceeds from the sale of the Means Cabin site would be used to buy the Sawmill Hill land.
But if the voters reject the Ryan parcel deal, said Open Space and Trails official Barb D’Autrechy, “the money would come from the open space fund.”
The commissioners also approved purchase of the Larson property, also near Redstone. The 9.4-acre parcel is along Highway 133, across the Crystal River from the southern end of the county-owned, 185-acre Filoha Meadows land. The purchase price is $550,000.
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