W/J reps say county actions devalued land | AspenTimes.com

W/J reps say county actions devalued land

Local architect and engineer Ted Guy yesterday accused the Board of County Commissioners of being punitive with their recent move to downzone W/J Ranch.

Guy was testifying at a hearing to determine if last month’s downzoning of W/J from Affordable Housing to RS-20 amounts to a takings. Ironically, Guy was testifying in front of the BOCC, which makes the first determination on a takings petition. The board took no action, continuing the proceedings to June 1.

The commissioners heard arguments last night that the W/J property lost most, if not all, of its value after they rezoned the property so just four or five free-market homes can be built, instead of the several hundred affordable housing units allowed under the old zoning.

Guy pointed out that W/J Ranch, Inc. President John Musick was held to a unique set of standards last summer when he applied to build 778 affordable units on 112 acres at the ranch. He pointed out that Musick was not allowed to respond to criticism of his original application from staff or the Planning and Zoning Commission, which meant the proposal went before the BOCC without any revisions.

Guy also noted that Musick was co-opted from reapplying after the BOCC met behind closed doors last February to craft an emergency resolution that banned him from submitting a new proposal after the normal moratorium period expired. County code disallows new applications for six months after a land-use proposal has been denied.

“First we had an abated review process,” Guy said. “Then we were faced with very punitive actions by the county to ensure that there is no new application for affordable housing on this property by this developer.”

The other witnesses to testify on behalf of the ranch included Enrique Munoz, Musick’s financial adviser, and Michael Carmichael, a developer from Boulder who helped with financial arrangements for the sale of 46 rental units on the ranch that were converted to affordable housing in the mid-1990s.

Carmichael and Munoz both agreed with Guy’s contention that the section of W/J where free-market housing could be located is some of the least desirable property in the Woody Creek area.

“This property comes with significant debt, no access to the river, a nearby affordable housing development and power lines overhead,” Guy said. “I question whether a free-market lot there would sell for even one million.”

In a letter submitted as evidence, Musick claims the cost of the entire ranch, more 300 acres, was $38.5 million. He and Munoz estimate the value of the 112 acres downzoned last month at $10 million.

The county attorney’s office did not present a case defending the BOCC’s actions. Assistant County Attorney Marcella Larsen questioned each witness about their credentials, and she quizzed Munoz and W/J attorney John Nelson about some of the numbers submitted as evidence.

Larsen said she wanted to see proof of the purchase price, clarification about who owns the ranch and who has benefited from changes in its ownership’s corporate structure. Nelson’s petition claimed that the property in question is owned by W/J Ranch, Inc., a Delaware corporation, and an organization known as Pitkin County Affordable Housing.

The two attorneys also clashed over whether the entire ranch should be considered in the takings hearing, as Larsen contends, or just the affected properties, as Nelson maintains.

Commissioner Leslie Lamont questioned all three witnesses about how a $13.5 million loan to the W/J from a New York investment bank had been spent. Her efforts were fruitless.

If W/J Ranch owners were to prevail in the takings proceedings, the county would have to reimburse them for the land and development value lost as a result of the county’s actions.

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