Wexners to Pitkin County: Time to deal, or forget it
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
PITKIN COUNTY – Landowners Leslie and Abigail Wexner will withdraw their request for Pitkin County’s support of a proposed Carbondale-area land swap unless county commissioners want to meet and discuss what’s on the table.
In a letter dated Sunday, addressed to the county commissioners, the Wexners suggest the two sides engage in a direct discussion and try to reach some conclusion, or end the matter without reaching consensus.
“Reasonable people can disagree and we have always acknowledged your ultimate right to not support the exchange,” the Wexners wrote, suggesting the only way to move the matter forward is to meet – in public or in private.
“This process has been disruptive, costly and time-consuming for all involved. It has created destructive divisions in the community,” the Wexners said in the letter. “We are requesting that you bring it to an end.”
The Wexners have proposed exchanging 1,268 acres of Bureau of Land Management property on the north flank of Mount Sopris, south of Carbondale, for the 520-acre Sutey Ranch to the north of Carbondale. The BLM property would be folded into their Two Shoes Ranch; the Sutey Ranch, valued for wildlife and recreational attributes, would become BLM land. All of the acreage at both sites would be protected from development.
In the past year, the Wexners have sweetened the deal twice in an effort to win Pitkin County support. The county, meanwhile, unveiled its own proposal (which the Wexners rejected) and then recently modified it. On Friday, Commissioner George Newman, board chairman, said the county plans to bring forward “a new compromise proposal.”
“We have no interest in another series of unilateral proposals and the same course of action we have just experienced, in which we are excluded from the process,” the Wexners concluded. “Through direct discussions, we believe we can and should work together in the public’s interest. If you disagree, we no longer wish to waste yours, ours or the public’s time and will withdraw our request for your support of the exchange.”
Although the county is working on a new proposal, commissioners have not, at least publicly, responded to the most recent pitch from the Wexners, which included a $1 million endowment to the BLM for land management and wildlife enforcement at the Sutey Ranch, donation of Two Shoes Ranch staff time to maintain the ditches and irrigation system at the Sutey Ranch and the extinguishing of 80,000 square feet of development rights at Two Shoes.
“We officially haven’t rejected their proposal – we have discussed it,” Newman said Monday. “Rather than reject it, we feel it’s more conducive to address our concerns in their proposal with a compromise proposal.”
The Wexners are willing to meet with the commissioners personally, or through their representatives, said attorney Gideon Kaufman, who has been one of the couple’s representatives throughout the process.
“I wish we’d had an opportunity to meet and talk directly with them and have a chance to be listened to and engage in meaningful dialogue,” Kaufman said. “I’ve never felt more left out of a process. I think this is too small a place to be communicating through the media, e-mails and dueling proposals.”
Commissioners have held public meetings on the swap, as well as discussions behind closed doors, but have not convened a public discussion focused on the most recent proposal offered by the Wexners. They have been welcome to attend any public discussion that has taken place, Newman noted.
Commissioner Jack Hatfield, however, agreed that communication between the two sides could be improved.
“I think it’s right on,” he said of their letter.
The Wexners’ representatives have said they intend to seek congressional approval of the land exchange. Though Pitkin County has no decision-making power in the matter, its support is thought to be important to securing approval at the federal level.
“They’re certainly able to take this to Washington, D.C., with or without our support,” Newman said.
“If they don’t want to continue with the deal, it’s OK with me,” said Commissioner Michael Owsley on Monday.
Leslie Wexner, an Ohio billionaire, is CEO and chairman of the board of the Limited Brands apparel corporation, as well as a noted philanthropist. He has already spent some $66 million acquiring the properties that make up Two Shoes Ranch, and purchased the Sutey Ranch for $6.5 million with the land exchange in mind. In addition to the ranch, he owns a home in the Aspen area.
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