W/J Ranch dismisses its case against Pitkin County | AspenTimes.com

W/J Ranch dismisses its case against Pitkin County

Jeremy Heiman

The corporation that owns the W/J Ranch has withdrawn the final portions of a suit against Pitkin County that the company inherited from former owner John Musick.

Jim DeFrancia, president of Lowe W/J, said documents were filed Monday afternoon dismissing the last two of seven claims Musick made against the county in his 1998 lawsuit. DeFrancia said the corporation hopes to file a preliminary application for development on the ranch within two months.

In 1998, Pitkin County denied Musick’s application to subdivide the 112-acre ranch and develop 778 units of affordable housing. The county then rezoned the property RS-20, a designation which would allow only five houses. Musick sued for compensation for those decisions.

Five of the claims Lowe W/J dropped in February resulted from the county’s denial of Musick’s proposed subdivision of the ranch. The two dismissed by the corporation Monday were in reaction to the rezoning.

DeFrancia said his group was otherwise occupied and took some time to decide they weren’t interested in pursuing the remaining claims.

“So I finally had a meeting with the county and told them this was sort of a nonsense lawsuit and just dismissed it,” DeFrancia said. “We really just hadn’t analyzed the merits of the claims enough.”

He said he had two good reasons not to pursue the suit. First, it was Musick’s suit, not Lowe’s. And second, Lowe’s corporate philosophy has always been to maintain an amicable relationship with local governments. At any rate, litigating with a local government is not likely to have a good outcome, win or lose, DeFrancia said.

“It’s like wrestling with a skunk,” he said. “Even if you win, you come away smelling bad.”

Lowe W/J hopes to create a mix of affordable and free-market dwellings on the ranch. An as-yet-undetermined number of affordable housing units would be built on the lower bench of the ranch, DeFrancia said, where affordable housing already exists. A smaller number of expensive free-market houses would be built on the upper bench.

When the company files its application for the ranch, it will have to include a request for a zoning change to accommodate the affordable housing, which is not permitted in the RS-20 zoning.

Planners for the corporation are working on what DeFrancia called “sensitivity studies” to determine just how much and what kind of development is appropriate. The company has guidelines that will help determine how many dwellings will require a sewer plant, for example, and how many dwellings will justify construction of public parks and other amenities.

The analysis will also include meetings with the neighborhood groups that will be affected by development there, such as the Woody Creek Caucus and residents of White Star Ranch.

“We need to find out what will make sense out there,” DeFrancia said. “Then we’ll put that in front of the county and put it through the process.”

DeFrancia also heads up Lowe Community Development, a division of Lowe Enterprises, Inc., a Los Angeles-based development company with large holdings nationwide in resort, office and residential properties. Lowe purchased W/J last December by taking over Musick’s debt to Lehman Bros., a large investment banking firm.

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