Bid doesn't threaten group

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— The chairman of the Emerald Mountain Partnership said Thursday he perceives no threat from a group of developers who jumped into the bidding for 6,400 acres of State Land Board property on the mountain that dominates views from Steamboat Springs.

Chairman Ben Beall said Thursday he feels reassured by the results of Wednesday's bid opening for the land his group has been working to protect for almost five years. The board is expected to either accept a bid or back away from the sale process in December.

"The State Land Board had to go through the public process and we're there, we're still in the running," Beall said. "I'm still optimistic that our agreement will be accepted by the State Land Board in the end."

Beall said he does not view a bid submitted by the developers of Catamount Ranch and Club as an attempt to undermine his partnership's efforts to protect Emerald Mountain from development. One of the owners of Catamount said the bid was made only to fend off outside bidders who might not be sympathetic to the partnership's goal of conserving the land. Lyman Orton said the bid will automatically be retracted because there appears to be no credible threat to Emerald Mountain Partnerships' standing at the front of the line. A clause, promising the retraction, was built into the language of the bid, Orton said.

"We submitted this (bid) based solely on the understanding that others would submit proposals to purchase the land, and if accepted, they would cause the agreement with the Emerald Mountain Partnership to terminate," Orton said.

Catamount Ranch and Club owners, acting as a separate limited liability company, River Ranch Development, bid $17.2 million, the full appraised value of the 6,400 acres. The Emerald Mountain Partnership already has a "memo of agreement" in place to pay the State Land Board the appraised amount for the property.

Orton, in addition to being an owner in the Catamount Group, also serves on the Emerald Mountain Advisory Committee, which consults with the Partnership.

The bids on Emerald Mountain were sealed until Wednesday's opening, and when the bids were revealed, it turned out the third party was not making a cash offer, but a proposal to list the property on the real estate market.

Local Realtor Vicky Hanna said she made a proposal, rather than a bid, to market the State Land Board tract on the open real estate market.

"I think there are buyers out there who want their own mountain," Hanna said. However, she said her philosophy on how Emerald Mountain should be protected is in alignment with the Emerald Mountain Partnership.

"There needs to be no density there," Hanna said. While she does not have a specific client interested in purchasing the land, she envisioned a single owner interested in conservation easements.

Although the Emerald Mountain Partnership had previously said it believed it would need to find a "gentleman rancher" to ride in and agree to help with the purchase in exchange for a single home site, Beall said that is no longer the group's focus.

"We're going to go for 100 percent preservation and see if we can do it," Beall said. "Seventeen million dollars is going to be a big effort, but that is what we're going to do. We decided it was inappropriate for us to go for development at this time. We want to assure the community we're going for 100 percent preservation at this point in time."

Beall said that did not rule out the possibility of pursuing a private development component to the partnerships' bid to purchase the State Land Board property, should the community be unable to find a way to come up with the $17.2 million.

A spokesperson for Catamount Ranch and Club said the owners would have an open mind to filling that role.

"It's no secret we're looking for more dirt," Jody Patten said. But she added that it would not be consistent with the philosophy of the ownership group to undermine the community effort to preserve Emerald Mountain.

She said she hopes the partnership is successful in its bid to achieve 100 percent conservation. If Catamount did become involved, she added, it goes without saying they would be proposing to place conservation easements on much of the land.

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210or e-mail tomross@amigo.net

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