Wexner offers compromise in Carbondale-area land swap
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE – Landowner Leslie Wexner would give up approvals for 10 homes on his Two Shoes Ranch near Carbondale and provide a $1 million endowment to ensure long-term management of the Sutey Ranch under the terms of his latest offer to swap the Sutey property for federal land adjacent to his ranch.
Wexner’s representatives delivered the “compromise” proposal to Pitkin County officials late Tuesday. The new proposal increases the amount of land that would be placed under conservation, protecting it from development, and, proponents of the deal say, addresses concerns regarding the ability of the Bureau of Land Management to manage the Sutey Ranch. The proposal is contained in a 58-page document interspersed with an additional 17 pages of maps.
Also provided as part of Wexner’s latest proposal was an assessment prepared by Jonathan Lowsky, the county’s former wildlife biologist, that evaluates both parcels involved in the trade from a wildlife perspective. Two local Colorado Division of Wildlife officials have endorsed the compromise plan over an earlier Pitkin County counterproposal, according to the report.
The proposal is the latest development in discussions that have been ongoing for a year. Wexner wants to acquire 1,268 acres of Bureau of Land Management property in order to consolidate his Two Shoes Ranch landholdings on the north flank of Mount Sopris, south of Carbondale. He has offered the scenic and wildlife-sensitive Sutey Ranch, a 520-acre piece that would be turned over to the BLM, in exchange.
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His representatives intend to seek congressional approval of the swap, but Pitkin County declined to endorse the trade as originally proposed and subsequently offered an alternative proposal to create a new open space parcel on Potato Bill Creek. It would include a piece of Wexner’s land and improve public access to the north flank of Sopris.
Wexner and his wife, Abigail, rejected the county plan, and the narrative in their compromise proposal delves into the detrimental impacts public open space would have on wildlife and the agricultural operations of Two Shoes Ranch, which runs close to 1,000 head of cattle.
The DOW is interested in protecting wildlife habitat and winter range at both the Sutey Ranch and in the Potato Bill Creek area, said Kevin Wright, DOW district wildlife manager. The agency has not been asked to take a formal position, but the Wexner proposal is preferable from a wildlife standpoint to the alternative pitched by Pitkin County, he said.
“Opening [Potato Bill Creek] up with a public access trail to that area, we believe would have some significant impacts on wildlife,” Wright said.
The area is critical to a dwindling herd of bighorn sheep and is also used by elk, deer and peregrine falcons, according to Lowsky’s report.
Wexner’s latest proposal will be presented at what promises to be an information-laden meeting on March 2 hosted by the Carbondale Town Board. Pitkin and Garfield County commissioners have also been invited, as have representatives of the DOW and BLM. Town trustees scheduled the meeting to reconsider their support for the swap as it was originally proposed and to consider the alternative pitched by Pitkin County. Now they will have the latest Wexner proposal to consider, as well.
Pitkin County commissioners had scheduled a Feb. 26 session to review the latest offer from Wexner, but decided this week to forego that meeting date, according to County Manager Hilary Fletcher. A March 1 meeting is still possible, she said, but county staffers have only just begun reviewing the new proposal and aren’t sure how long it will take to prepare a response for the commissioners’ consideration.
Though county officials have voiced support for conservation of Sutey Ranch, they have voiced various concerns about the trade and privatizing the BLM land at the base of Sopris.
The Sutey property has been identified as desirable both for recreational opportunities (it abuts the BLM Red Hill Recreation Area) and as big-game habitat, particularly in the wintertime. The new proposal from Wexner puts additional funds toward preparing a BLM management plan for the parcel and provides funds for its long-term oversight and enforcement of anticipated seasonal closures to protect wildlife.
“It’s absolutely critical that there be enforcement if this goes through,” the DOW’s Wright said.
New elements of the proposed trade include:
• Donation of a $1 million endowment to BLM to manage the Sutey Ranch and hire a seasonal enforcement officer.
• Donation of $100,000 (up from $50,000) for preparation of a Sutey management plan.
• Donation of Two Shoes Ranch staff time to handle ditch maintenance and irrigation at the Sutey Ranch.
• Implementation of a wildfire mitigation and game management plan developed in conjunction with wildlife experts for the 1,268 acres of BLM land that would become part of Two Shoes Ranch.
• Granting of an easement across a 7-acre parcel on the east side of Prince Creek Road at Two Shoes to resolve a mountain biking trespass issue.
• Eliminating seven existing development rights for homes on the west side of Two Shoes, in an area visible from Highway 133, plus three development rights on the east side of the ranch. Also eliminating the ability to build a county-approved, 17,500-square-foot riding arena and 7,500 square feet of agricultural buildings in an irrigated meadow visible from Highway 133. The eliminated development totals 72,500 square feet. There are currently development approvals for 27 homes at Two Shoes, according to the county.
• Placement of a conservation easement on nearly 230 acres of the ranch dubbed the Potato Bill tract.
The swap proposal already included conservation easements to protect both the BLM land and Sutey Ranch from development, including oil and gas exploration and extraction, a $100,000 donation for historic preservation efforts in Redstone and a $100,000 donation toward restoration of the county-owned, historic Emma store buildings.
If the trade goes forward, the Two Shoes Ranch would increase from roughly 4,400 acres to 5,600 acres. Wexner, the billionaire CEO and chairman of the board of the Limited Brands apparel corporation, has already spent some $66 million acquiring the properties that make up Two Shoes, and purchased the Sutey Ranch for $6.5 million with the trade in mind. In addition to the ranch, he owns a home in the Aspen area.
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