W/J Ranch is in new hands | AspenTimes.com

W/J Ranch is in new hands

The embattled W/J Ranch property near Woody Creek is now in new hands – Lowe Enterprises, Inc., a Los Angeles-based development company.

A representative for Lowe said the buyer has no definite plans for the property, but is leaning toward construction of affordable housing. The company has retained Design Workshop, an Aspen planning firm, to plan development at the ranch.

Lowe purchased the ranch from two corporations controlled by attorney John Musick by taking over debt owed by those corporations.

Jim DeFrancia, president of Lowe Community Development, a subsidiary of Lowe Enterprises, said yesterday the sale closed for an amount in the neighborhood of $20 million. Much of that sum is owed to Lehman Brothers Holdings, an investment banking firm.

Lehman will continue to hold the deed of trust to the property, which it received as security on a 1998 loan of $13.75 million to Musick’s corporations. DeFrancia believes Musick has moved to California.

DeFrancia said his company’s approach to development of the property will be to involve the community and others with an interest in its future.

“We want to approach the use of this property on a very open basis,” DeFrancia said, “with a dialogue with the county and with all of the appropriate public bodies and the community at large.”

He said he wants to know what the Woody Creek Caucus, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, the county commissioners and the neighboring landowners think about any plans they come up with before moving ahead.

“While we have a sort of predisposition to want to do something reasonable with regard to affordable housing, we don’t have any definitive plans,” he said.

One thing everyone can likely count on, DeFrancia said, is that any development proposals won’t be on the same scale as the one proposed by Musick. He fought a bitter battle with county officials over his plans to construct 778 dwelling units.

“What Musick had proposed, in my personal opinion, was awful,” DeFrancia said. After rejecting Musick’s application, county commissioners voted to rezone the major portion of the ranch to accommodate only one house per 20 acres. However, portions of the property are still available for affordable housing development.

Lowe assumes responsibility for numerous liens against the land held by contractors and other businesses owed money by Musick’s corporations, DeFrancia said.

“We bought it as is,” he said. “We were cognizant of the liens.”

DeFrancia isn’t so sure what his company’s obligations are regarding a water system serving existing homes at the ranch.

Musick hired contractors in 1998 to make improvements to the domestic water system. The project later ground to a halt, even though the water lines had all been dug up, leaving huge piles of dirt throughout the residential area. Residents say the situation hasn’t changed for a year.

County Commissioner Mick Ireland said the water lines and other problems Musick is leaving behind must be addressed before any new owner will be allowed to further develop the land.

“If somebody comes in here with a land use application and they haven’t taken care of that stuff, it’s not gonna fly,” Ireland said. “As far as I’m concerned, those obligations run with the property just like a lien.”

DeFrancia said his company intends to learn what needs to be done, and take care of anything that’s required. He said company officials would meet with the W/J Homeowners Association to discuss the needs of the present residents.

“We’re going to do everything there’s an obligation to do,” DeFrancia said. “We’re going to move aggressively to address all those points.”

Musick, through his corporations, bought the W/J property from Wilton “Wink” Jaffee Jr. in three separate parcels in 1995. Musick’s W/J Ranch, Inc. paid $4.94 million for one parcel and $1.2 million for a second, while Jaffee deeded a third parcel to Musick’s nonprofit organization, Pitkin County Affordable Housing, Inc., “as a tax-exempt charitable gift.”

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