The Routt County Board of Commissioners is expected to vote Tuesday on a plan to conserve more than 900 acres on a private ranch near Thorpe Mountain. It would be accomplished by transferring the development rights from the private ranch to the Alpine Mountain Ranch and Club just outside the city limits of Steamboat Springs, a move that could usher in a new method of land preservation.
One result of the transfer, anticipated when Alpine Mountain Ranch was approved in 2006, would be to allow the developers to sell an additional 20, 5-acre lots. Alpine Mountain Ranch already has 43 home sites on the market. The 20 additional lots are recorded on the county's plat map, but their status is denoted as conditional. Consummation of the transfer of development rights from the John Adams family's Flying Diamond Ranch would change their status to buildable, Routt County Assistant Planning Director Ellen Hoj said.
Should the commissioners approve the plan, Hoj said, it could become a test project for a planning tool that might someday be used throughout the county.
"Flying Diamond Ranch is the last huge ranch on the valley floor," Hoj said. "It seems like the time is ripe for this way of looking at land preservation."
The Routt County Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the plan Jan. 15. Commission Chairman Don Alperti, of South Routt, said he anticipates the Flying Diamond/Alpine Mountain arrangement will become a guide for other developers to follow in the future.
"The exciting thing is that we get to preserve this large ranch," Alperti said.
The Flying Diamond land involved in the plan is about nine miles southwest of Steamboat Springs. It includes one parcel on the north side of Colorado Highway 131 and a second on the south side that reaches up to the slopes of Thorpe Mountain.
John Adams, owner of Flying Diamond Ranch, said should the county commissioners approve the plan, it would allow him to achieve the goal of receiving some value for the land without having to develop it.
"My family has owned and operated the ranch for 35 years," Adams said. "I never have developed it and would always prefer never to."
Adams credited Realtor Brent Romick, of Romick and Associates, with working through the challenging details of the plan.
The 365.4-acre parcel involved in the transfer on the north side of the highway is used as part of a larger piece of land for hay production and cattle grazing. The 534.6 acres on the south side includes critical wildlife habitat.
Romick said among the things he is most proud of is that the 534.6 acres happens to be adjacent to a piece of state-owned land, which in turn abuts two other private parcels under conservation easement. The result would be the creation of a 2,050-acre preserve for elk and other animals that stretches southeast toward Stagecoach Reservoir.
"Conserving a larger parcel, you have a greater opportunity to protect public views, wildlife habitat, irrigated ranch land and the legacy of ranching in the valley," Romick said.
Bill Reid, vice president of Alpine Mountain Ranch and Club, credited co-developers Bill Butler and Andy Daly with having the foresight to enter into the original development plan that allowed them to go out and pursue development rights that would enhance the overall project.
With asking prices for the original 43 lots surpassing $1.5 million, the realization of the additional lots in a later phase of the development could represent more than $30 million of product at retail. The developers report nine building lot sales. Several of them are internal sales involving members of the development group.
But it does more than that, Reid said, by allowing both developers and homeowners to amortize the cost of development in ongoing infrastructure cost, like maintaining the internal water system at Alpine Mountain.
"Andy and Bill view Steamboat Springs as an established destination that still has room to grow in terms of appreciation and property values," Reid said.
Under the plan, Adams would execute a development agreement with the county restricting development on the two parcels of Flying Diamond Ranch. He then would grant a deed for a conservation easement on the agricultural land to the Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust and another for the southern parcel that would establish a perpetual conservation easement to be held by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
The transfer of development rights gives the county a tool to protect land that is desirable for its wildlife habitat, longstanding agricultural practices and public views, without spending public dollars, Hoj said.
"That's the beauty of (transfer of development rights)" she said.
The county commissioners paved the way for the deal between Flying Diamond and Alpine Mountain in December 2008 when they approved amending Routt County Subdivision Regulations and extended the boundary for properties eligible to be used to satisfy this kind of transfer of development rights.
Hoj said the original language in the approval for Alpine Mountain allowed them to seek "remainder parcels," from which they could acquire development rights in the south valley floor.
The pending deal with Flying Diamond clearly was the impetus, she added, but the extension of the boundaries wasn't done exclusively to accommodate Flying Diamond. At the time the boundary was extended, more than 1,000 additional acres representing a number of different property owners were added to the pool of suitable lands that could meet the criteria.
Hoj added that because Flying Diamond is further from the ski area than Alpine Mountain Ranch and theoretically less valuable, she required that Alpine Mountain Ranch acquire development rights to land sufficient to generate a 1.5:1 lot ratio between the two properties. Thus, the development rights being quieted at Flying Diamond come from land that could have supported 30 estate lots compared to the 20 conditional lots at Alpine Mountain Ranch.
In addition, Hoj said, the transfer of development lots is removing a previously approved land preservation subdivision on Flying Diamond that had not been developed.
Romick said Adams has surrendered a considerable asset in the form of the 12 already approved land preservation subdivision lots at Sunridge Ranch.
Adams said he's not done transferring development rights.
"I want to ease the whole 3,200 acres forever," Adams said. "We just haven't found a home for all of it yet."