Wexners reject Pitkin County’s Sutey Ranch proposal
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Pitkin County’s counteroffer to a proposed trade of BLM property on the north flank of Mount Sopris for the Sutey Ranch, north of Carbondale, has been rejected by the landowners who initiated the swap discussions.
Leslie and Abigail Wexner, owners of the Two Shoes Ranch at the base of Sopris, have turned down the alternative pitched last week by Pitkin County in both a personal letter to Pitkin County commissioners and in a formal response prepared by their representatives.
Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the swap at 3 p.m. Tuesday, anticipating presentations by both Dale Will, director of the county Open Space and Trails Program, and the Wexners’ representatives, attorney Gideon Kaufman and Andy Wiessner of Western Land Group. Kaufman said he delivered his clients’ response to the county Monday afternoon.
The county had resisted the trade as initially proposed, and countered last week with a proposal that would fold 873 acres of BLM property at the base of Mount Sopris into the two separate ranch properties that make up Two Shoes Ranch, consolidating the Wexner landholdings in a 4,274-acre, contiguous piece.
In exchange, the 520-acre Sutey Ranch, north of the Red Hill Recreation Area near Carbondale, would become BLM property. However, the county also proposed creating a new piece of open space that would preserve public access to federal lands at the base of Sopris, combining some BLM land and county open space with 536 acres to be carved out of Two Shoes Ranch.
The county proposal will “negatively affect the ranches by creating a recreational corridor which will introduce conflicting uses and activities adjacent to the heart of the ranching operation,” said the memo from Kaufman and Wiessner. “This will negatively impact not only the cattle, but the wildlife that enjoy one of the few places left in the valley with limited human intrusion.”
The proposal would also remove significant riverfront property from Two Shoes Ranch, which is also unacceptable, the memo said.
In their original proposal, the Wexners sought 1,268 acres of BLM land – most of it a strip between their two ranch properties – and offered the Sutey Ranch, which they purchased for $6.5 million with the trade in mind. They later added $1 million in enticements: $50,000 toward a BLM management plan for Sutey Ranch, $100,000 for restoration work on the county-owned historic buildings in Emma, $100,000 for historic preservation projects in Redstone and $750,000 for Pitkin County open space acquisition.
The Wexners, in their letter, said their motivations in proposing the swap included enhancing the ranching operation, protecting wildlife and protecting the BLM land from potential oil, gas and mineral exploration.
Conservation easements to be placed on both the BLM land and the Sutey Ranch would prevent development, including oil and gas leasing.
“We have repeatedly and publicly been personally accused of manipulative and selfish purpose, seeking to somehow ‘take advantage’ of Pitkin County for our own benefit,” the Wexners wrote in their letter. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Our goal all along has been to preserve and protect the agricultural uses and wildlife habitat of both the BLM parcel and the Sutey Ranch from the potential of disposition, development and oil, gas and mineral exploration.”
At the same time, the deal would provide the public with recreational possibilities on the Sutey Ranch, they said.
County open space officials objected to the deal as originally proposed, in part, because of the potential value the addition of the BLM land would bring to the existing Two Shoes Ranch, where there are approvals for 27 homes totaling 205,600 square feet. Those approvals were acquired before the Wexners purchased the properties, Kaufman noted.
To address that concern, two local appraisers were hired to assess the value the BLM piece would bring to Two Shoes; they concluded it was minimal, according to the memo from Kaufman and Wiessner.
The Wexners are willing to share the appraisals with the county, and, in their letter, the Wexners indicated they are willing to meet with commissioners personally, though they don’t intend to attend Tuesday’s meeting, Kaufman said.
Though they are rejecting the county’s proposed new Potato Bill Creek Open Space at the base of Sopris, the Wexners did agree to grant seven acres along Prince Creek Road that contain mountain biking trails, and to work with the county on acquisition of the nearby Haines parcel, criss-crossed with unauthorized bike trails. They also offered further financial assistance with the development of a management plan for the Sutey property.
The Wexners are seeking Pitkin County’s support of the land trade to ease congressional approval of the deal. What will occur if they can’t secure the county’s endorsement remains to be seen.
“They have two options – one is go forward without it, one is to drop it. We’re not there yet,” Kaufman said Monday.
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