While pride and impatience battle; Snowmass is at risk
The negotiations over the Droste ranch lands on the Brush Creek Valley floor have now become a seemingly doomed wrangle between two apparently intractable factions.
It must be kept in mind, however, that the public benefits at stake here are too valuable to allow stubbornness, frustration and ego to set the course of the talks.
The town of Snowmass Village has been wrestling with the Droste family for more than two years. The Drostes want to develop some or all of their 940 acres, which encompass a large portion of the valley floor as well as acreage on the ridge and spilling over into the Owl Creek drainage.
The town, anxious to fend off development of the valley floor – property that forms the scenic entrance to the village – has been trying to buy it from the Drostes in order to preserve the pastoral vista along Brush Creek Road.
But the talks have stalled over disagreements about the price, the amount of land that should be involved, the transfer of development rights off the valley floor and onto the remaining acreage, and whether the town can buy the land outright or merely place a conservation easement on it.
At this point, it seems the Drostes are set to put the valley floor on the market immediately – and as soon as one contract is signed, that’s it. The die will be cast and there will be no turning back. We will very likely be seeing bulldozers in the valley floor by next year, prepping building sites for more outsized mansions and ruining what has been known as the “entrance to Snowmass Village.”
This should not be allowed to happen.
The Drostes want $7.5 million in return for a conservation easement on the 500 acres of the valley floor. The voters of Snowmass Village have authorized the town to spend $7.1 million in order to “preserve” some or all of the Droste lands from development. And the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board has pledged up to another $1 million to help make the deal happen.
The Town Council members are refusing to agree to the Drostes’ terms because they think the price is too high. They have put their faith in an appraisal that values the property far below the Drostes’ asking price. Certainly, the amount of money involved is very large and, certainly, the town has a right to believe in the opinions of its chosen experts. However, the Drostes have an apparently equally valid appraisal that supports their valuation. And, more importantly, the Drostes have the land – and they have the power to sell it to developers.
Once the land is sold, it is gone. Once it is developed, it is developed forever. There will be no undoing the damage.
The town has the money and it has the support of the local residents, who agreed to tax themselves to raise the $7.1 million.
This newspaper certainly is not in favor of windfall profits – but we suspect that the Drostes could make even more profit by subdividing their property. And we also suspect that the Snowmass Town Council is not resisting simply because the Drostes are asking for too much money.
We perhaps share the council’s distaste for the Drostes’ hardball negotiating tactics. They are, in effect, saying, “Agree to our terms today or the bulldozers roll tomorrow.” But, such impatience is in some ways understandable given the history of negotiations with the Town Council.
So, the council can stand on “principle,” of course, but it is highly unlikely that the voters will look kindly on such a position once the bulldozers start tearing up the terrain.
And it must be asked, exactly what “principle” is it that the council would be standing on? Injured pride? Bruised egos? Childish petulance, perhaps?
It can be fairly predicted that, if the valley floor is developed because the Town Council blew this opportunity, the judgment of history will be a harsh one.
And a well-deserved one.
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