Wednesday, November 8, 2000
Steamboat Springs The Routt County commissioners have approved spending tax dollars to buy the development rights on 325 acres near Steamboat Springs.
The newest land to be brought under the county's Purchase of Development Rights program is part of Patsy Wilhelm's 500-acre ranch, five miles north of Steamboat Springs. It sits off of County Road 129, up on Copper Ridge behind Elk River Estates.
"I don't want to see houses up there where I've spent my lifetime watching elk, deer and bear," said Patsy Wilhelm, a local rancher and outfitter.
That was a serious possibility, said Carl Vail, chairman of the PDR Advisory Board. "It's an area being pressured by development," he explained.
Wilhelm was paid $240,000 out of the PDR fund. The Colorado Division of Wildlife paid her another $50,000 because the land is critical elk habitat.
The PDR fund was established in 1997 through a 1 point mill levy approved by voters. The levy brings in about $350,000 a year from local property owners. The money is used to buy development rights from rural landowners who agree to let part of their land be used as natural habitat, or used for agricultural purposes forever. A conservation easement is used to secure the purchase. People who inherit or buy the property cannot develop the land that is under the easement.
In total, Wilhelm received about $290,000 for her development rights. However, the 325 acres on Copper Ridge were worth about $650,000, Vail said.
That means Wilhelm essentially donated $360,000.
"I wanted to make it possible for my kids to stay on the land," she said. "And with estate taxes, there probably would have been no way."
Susan Otis, chairwoman of the Yampa Valley Land Trust, the conservation group that helped put the deal together, is working on two more conservation easements on major ranches in the area. One is near completion. The other should be finished by the end of the year. Both will be partially funded with PDR dollars. Otis did not want to comment on those transactions until they were completed.
When funding conservation easements, the PDR Advisory Board looks at several criteria. An important issue is the owner's desire to preserve agricultural and natural areas of Routt County.
Wilhelm and members of her family still live on pieces of the 1,300-acre ranch her parents originally settled in 1942.
"People as a whole now look at land and see dollars," she said, "and they don't understand the nostalgic value that develops between a family and land."