PitCo and Ranchers Determined to Conserve Pasture in Redstone

Ranchers use a tack shed on a land parcel near Redstone that Pitkin County and nearby ranchers who use the land for grazing want to protect.

A pasture near Redstone will be protected from development, but county government has yet to find the most appropriate way to do so.

“We’re going to find a way to conserve this property,” said Commissioner Francie Jacober, chair of the Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners. 

On Wednesday, with staff and members of Redstone Pasture LLC — the group representing the 13 families that share ownership of the land — the commissioners discussed ways to conserve the land without the use of transferable development rights. 

The owners of the property asked the county to deem the land “undevelopable or severely restricted” and/or visually constrained in order to obtain the two TDRs in exchange for preservation of the parcel.

The parcel is an 68.13 acre stretch of land on the western side of Highway 133, just north of Redstone. 

The ranchers of Redstone Pasture LLC, including Nieslanik Ranch and Cold Mountain Ranch, use the land to graze their cattle in the spring and fall. But the active ranchers are a minority in the ownership group.

“Therein lies the issue for why we are seeking constraint TDRs on this parcel. The non-ranching families are interested in moving on and outnumber the ranching families,” said Joslyn Wood, who spoke on behalf of Redstone Pasture LLC. “They are hoping to be able to monetize their ownership interest in his property without necessarily having the property developed. And in my understanding, the Pitkin County Board of Commissioners supports conserving land and finding that agricultural uses and conservation are beneficial.”

Bill Fales owns Cold Mountain Ranch and advocated for the protection of the parcel. 

“We really feel that our agricultural operations are at risk,” he said. “This pasture in itself is really important in wildlife benefits and scenic viewsheds for the scenic Highway 133, for wildlife habitat, (and) for all kinds of things. But what happens to this pasture also directly affects the viability of other ranchers.”

Beef from the ranches supply some local restaurants and contribute to some of the stock at Whole Foods. 

Fales recounted decades of efforts on behalf of the ranching owners of the group to solidify protection for the parcel, so it can retain its agricultural utility. The non-ranching owners, he said, are in agreement with the ranchers that the land should be protected.

Tami Kochen, senior planner with the county, presented staff’s findings on whether the land is undevelopable, severely restricted, and/or visually constrained.

She said the staff considered the property’s susceptibility to wildfire, steepness of slopes, floodplain hazards, river and stream corridors, irrigation, wildlife habitat, and geological hazards as possible constraints to prevent development.

She said that under the county’s land-use code, the parcel does present some constraints. But the code allows for ways to work around constraints, and the staff could not recommend granting the TDRs, she said. 

“Staff agrees that there’s no location on the site that isn’t clear of these constraints. But the code does provide for this flexibility and provides for tools to mitigate those constraints,” she said. “Those mitigation standards do restrict the property. The property staff agrees that it is more restricted than other properties that occur in the county but doesn’t see it as a severely-restricted site and therefore, recommends that the BOCC adopt a resolution denying the Redstone Pastures LLC request for constrained and visually constrained site TDR.”

The commissioners all expressed a hesitancy to pursue preservation via TDRs but encouraged Redstone Pasture LLC to explore other options to preserve the land.

Commissioner Greg Poschman brought up the idea of a new appraisal on the land to be followed by a conservation easement. 

“Two TDRs on this property represent somewhere between $2 (million) and $4 million value. I’m going to assume that is probably 400% of what the appraised value would be today of an outright purchase of the land, and maybe 10 times what the conservation easement purchase would have been on an appraisal. And so what I think a situation like this does is it creates an incredible amount of inflation, which is going to affect the market dramatically in our valley. Who isn’t going to come and say they want a TDR instead of the fair appraised value or their property if they can get four to 10 times as much for it,” Poschman said. “In addition, when we get a conservation easement, we often get access rights and public benefits out of that, and it just doesn’t remain in the interests of the single interests of the owners.”

Redstone LLC put forth the request for two TDRs because the county staff determined that if the land were developed, it could support two homes that would have to be constructed relatively close together on the 68.13-acre property. 

A conservation easement limits future development while enabling the seller to continue using the property in its present state.

The other commissioners seemed to also be on board with pursuing a conservation easement for the land. 

“I want to somehow ensure that this is preserved. I don’t want houses built on it. I’m not certain that a TDR program is the best way to accomplish this. My thought is that a conservation easement with the ranch families retaining ownership of the land could be the best mechanism,” said Commissioner Steve Child. “Not necessarily (through) Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, although that is probably the best source of funding for purchasing a conservation easement. But it could be through some other organization, also.”

Some contention arose when commissioners brought up the topic of public access on the parcel.

Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury pointed out that Open Space and Trails is occasionally miffed by the board asking them to look into purchasing land instead of issuing a TDR.

“But given the history of interest in this property, I kind of want to maybe re-ignite those conversations and see if there is an avenue to closing this protection interest that we all share,” she said.

Commissioner Patti Clapper expressed an interest in learning more about what public access could look like on the property — to the immediate disapproval of Fales and Jacober.

They cited public-safety concerns because of cattle that would be present on the land, which sometimes get irritated and charge passersby because of unleashed dogs or protective behavior during calving season.

And it seemed that the future Redstone to McClure Pass trail played a part in Fales’ hesitancy to consider public access at the parcel.

“I’m almost hesitant to because of the debate over the bike path going from Redstone to McClure,” he said, before Jacober interrupted him to say that dropping that subject would be in his best interest. 

Ultimately, the board voted to continue discussion on the future of the parcel until May 10. In the 90 days until then, county staff and the Redstone Patsure LLC will look into alternate modes to preserve the land.

Fales noted that an appraisal may take months, and they would need to discuss cost-sharing with the other owners of the property. 

“We will have an uphill battle, but we will make every effort to work with the other owners,” said Wood. 

Video of the meeting is available at grassrootstv.org.

By: Josie TarisAspen Times I February 24, 2023

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