Cougar Canyon, Cozy Point Ridge clear to keep things as they are |

Cougar Canyon, Cozy Point Ridge clear to keep things as they are

Council extends vested property rights in divided vote

Wildcat Ranch Association President Bill Hegberg (left) chats with Snowmass Village Mayor Bill Madsen (center) and attorney David Myler during a site visit of the Cougar Canyon and Cozy Point Ridge subdivisions on Monday, June 7, 2021.
Kaya Williams/The Snowmass Sun

For a request that is at face value about development, Snowmass Village Town Council’s discussions about extending vested property rights from 2037 to 2050 at Cougar Canyon and Cozy Point Ridge have focused a lot on the opposite: preservation of open space.

“It’s a little bit ironic that we’re looking at extending the vesting rights to actually preserve the land, but I think that that’s kind of the intent. … We’re looking at a development application, but it’s really more of a way to preserve the land so that we can take advantage of that,” Mayor Bill Madsen said during review of the extension at a regular council meeting June 21.

Town Council approved the extension on second reading in a divided vote June 21, nearly seven months after they gave the OK on first reading in mid-November. It brings the vested property rights in alignment with those of landowner David Bonderman’s Wildcat Ranch, where those rights also expire in 2050.

On behalf of Bonderman, attorney David Myler has maintained from the get-go that the vesting extension on the 1,180 acres ensures that homestead owners won’t develop in haste at the two subdivisions west of Brush Creek Road to outpace any future, potentially more restrictive land use codes for the next 29 years. There are five lots (915 total acres) on Cougar Canyon and five lots (265 total acres) in Cozy Point Ridge, according to an application submitted to the town last year.

He, too, noted that the request was unusual for its emphasis on keeping open space open, at least in the near future. Vesting typically focuses on the preservation of present and future development rights, not preservation of the land that development occurs on.

“I’ve been doing this for 40-some years, and it’s the first time I’ve ever asked a board to provide my client with an incentive to do nothing with his property for a very long period of time,” Myler said.

Madsen, Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk and Councilman Tom Goode voted in favor of the extension; Councilmen Bob Sirkus and Tom Fridstein voted against, just as they did at first reading. The second reading vote was postponed several months to allow the council to gather more information and conduct a site visit, which they did June 7.

Sirkus and Fridstein remained concerned about the impact of the vote on future generations of Snowmass Villagers and on future town councils who might otherwise be the ones to vote on such an extension at a later date.

They suggested the request was premature, and that Myler should return with the request in four years. Shenk likewise said she didn’t want to bind future councils to a decision now that could be made at a later date, but she ultimately felt that the request met the requisite legal standards for approval.

Sirkus and Fridstein were less worried about the potential for development to get out of hand later on if building codes change than they were about a lack of any development at all. The land remains largely untouched with only dirt roads and little infrastructure; both subdivisions are gated and see more wildlife than humans most days.

“Mr. Bonderman has done nothing to suggest that there will ever be development on this property. … I don’t see why the council should extend the vesting at this time when we — this Town Council and the community — we have little reason to have any confidence that there will be a future development on this property,” Sirkus said.

Sirkus saw development as an “economic improvement” to the town by bolstering the tax base, though town manager Clint Kinney noted that the town has still received income via nearly $2.1 million in pre-paid impact fees.

“I don’t know what the town gains by granting another 13 years of vesting just because you asked. I don’t see the advantage — any advantage to the town,” Fridstein said.

The advantage, Myler said, is keeping the expanse of open space as it is “for as long as possible.”

But “the public does not have access to the land — the public does not enjoy that benefit. …. Nobody gains from leaving the land undeveloped,” Fridstein said. “There’s no benefit to us.“

Even though that’s the case, the lack of development was still a good thing in the eyes of Madsen and Goode, even if the public doesn’t set foot on the property.

“I think the real benefit that the town sees is that open space, and there is a real benefit to having no development at all there, and that’s kind of the lens that I view this through,” Madsen said. “I understand that this will be developed at some point, but I don’t see that it will be developed in any rush.”

And for Goode, the sight of untouched land that nearly every incoming visitor on an airplane sees as they approach the runway of the airport is worthwhile in itself, because “it just gives you the feeling that you have arrived in Colorado,” he said.

Myler, too, said there was an inherent benefit in keeping that open space open by giving landowners like Bonderman the opportunity to take their time before breaking ground.

“He does envision that it will be developed at some point, and we believe the development will be something the town is going to be proud of,” Myler said. “What we’re asking for is to be able to go slow. … Even a 20- or 30-year preservation of open space and wildlife habitat has always been something that’s been positive just for its own sake.”

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