Routt County Commissioners approved Tuesday a conservation easement for more than 760 acres on the Chew Ranch in North Routt County. The approval is one of six by commissioners, who this year have allocated more than $3.6 million to conserve more than 5,200 acres through the county's Purchase of Development Rights program.

Courtesy/Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust

Routt County Commissioners approved Tuesday a conservation easement for more than 760 acres on the Chew Ranch in North Routt County. The approval is one of six by commissioners, who this year have allocated more than $3.6 million to conserve more than 5,200 acres through the county's Purchase of Development Rights program.

5,000 acres in Routt County conserved

Commissioners approve more than $3 million for 6 parcels

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— Efforts to preserve agricultural land in Routt County took a big step forward Tuesday when county commissioners gave final approval to allocating more than $3 million for the conservation of six parcels totaling more than 5,000 acres.

Locations of the conserved properties span the county, from the Little Snake River area in North Routt to near the Flat Tops Wilderness Area in South Routt to the Wolf Mountain area in West Routt. Landowners and family members, in some cases representing several generations, were on hand Tuesday in the historic Routt County Courthouse for the approvals that finalized conservation of parcels valued for agricultural use, ranching, wildlife and scenic vistas.

When added to the conservation of Del’s Triangle Three ranch in North Routt earlier this year, the six parcels conserved Tuesday create a total of 5,255 acres conserved in 2010, with the use of $3.6 million in a voter-approved expense of property tax dollars through the county’s Purchase of Development Rights program.

One of the parcels conserved Tuesday includes more than 760 acres on the Chew Ranch just west of Clark in North Routt. The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agri­cultural Land Trust will hold that conservation easement, which was finalized with $800,000 from the PDR program, $600,000 from Great Outdoors Colorado and an $850,000 donation from the Chew family.

Rancher Scott Chew said the family receives “four or five letters every year from real estate companies” inquiring about their land, which remains a working, summertime ranch.

“We were seriously considering whether we’d have to sell off a portion of the land to maintain the operation,” Chew said.

He said had such a sale occurred, development likely would soon follow.

“Almost overnight, it would be split up and have houses on it,” Chew said.

North Routt rancher Jay Fetcher said conversations have long been under way about conservation efforts on the Upper Elk River Valley near Clark.

“This is the first PDR money that’s been spent on that project since 1993, and it’s the first GOCo money,” Fetcher said Tuesday.

Other parcels conserved Tues­day include:

■ 290 acres on the Salisbury Ranch, home to the O’Toole family and including one mile of the Little Snake River along Routt County Road 129 in North Routt, through the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust and with $150,000 of PDR funds

■ 2,500 acres of Smith Rancho, owned by Brad and Jackie Smith and adjacent to Wolf Mountain Ranch in West Routt, through The Nature Conservancy

■ 1,000 acres on the Harvey family’s property in the Elk River Valley, through The Nature Conservancy

■ The 387-acre Historic Red­mond Home Ranch, home to Jack and Wanda Redmond and adjacent to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area in South Routt, through the Yampa Valley Land Trust and with $550,000 of PDR funds

■ The more than 370-acre Y Bracket Y Ranch, owned by Rita Nelson and northwest of Yampa in South Routt, through the Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust and with $300,000 of PDR funds

The PDR program is funded by a 1.5 mill property tax re-approved in 2006, nine years after the program was first approved for a 10-year period. The 2006 renewal is good for 20 years.

The PDR process works by providing voter-approved tax dollars as an incentive to landowners, often ranch families, to enter into a conservation easement that sets the land aside from development. The property owners donate a substantial portion of the value of the easement as determined by an appraisal.

Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush is on vacation this week and was absent Tuesday. Com­mis­sioners Nancy Stahoviak and Doug Monger approved all the conservation efforts with 2-0 votes. Both emphasized how several of the conserved parcels adjoin already conserved parcels, to create large tracts of protected lands.

“We’re finally seeing come to fruition what we had originally envisioned,” Stahoviak said.

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

chickadee 3 years, 10 months ago

It took the vote of only two county commissioners to approve the spending of 3 million dollars?

Diane Mitsch Bush is on vacation, so she could not be bothered to vote? Was she on vacation at a location that has no telephone service or internet access? For a three million dollar expenditure, I would expect a commissioner to at least skype in a vote. Or at least phone it in. Again, this is not how private business works. When there is an important decision to be made, executives take a call. It happens on golf courses and beaches all over the world.

Not that I am against conservation. I just do not think enough voters pay attention to how the County spends our money.

Are any of these folks who received the funds good old boy rancher friends of the Monger family?

And Scott Chew, the realtors are calling you because they are HUNGRY. They want listings. They are not necessarily calling because they have a buyer in the bush.

No doubt all of these properties were snapped from the jaws of development in the nick of time because we all know that commercial banks are begging developers to borrow money with loose underwriting guidelines and easy credit to foster development of this open space and fill it with spec homes.

In some alternate universe, perhaps.

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hereandthere 3 years, 10 months ago

Well said, Chickadee. Lets get rid of these turkeys.

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kyle pietras 3 years, 10 months ago

I think its great! That should cut out some ranchettes.

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Anita Paquette 3 years, 10 months ago

Wondering??? Where were they when Perley Green's family was trying to preserve his ranch and the habitat for the deer and elk?? They must have been in the back pocket of the Thiefing realtor (everyone knows the thief) and the coal mine. Pearly and Bonnie's legacy deserved more.

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sledneck 3 years, 10 months ago

What a deal! We pay to stop "ranchetts" but never see a deed. For those who pay little or no taxes it''s a great deal. For those who pay too much in taxes...?

The estate tax threatens the Chew ranch a lot more than developers alone.

Excluding land from potential development causes higher land costs. Higher land costs increase the cost of housing. Just another example of how local government talks out of both sides. Making land scarce with our tax dollars one day and forcing developers to provide "affordable housing" at the expense of everyone else in the market for a home the next.

Every time government moves it wiggles us deeper into the quagmire, yet collectively all we seem to be able to do is look to government and scream... "DO SOMETHING"!

Sad.

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housepoor 3 years, 10 months ago

Are these funds supposed to be used on highly visible open space?

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 10 months ago

As a general policy this is less than a drop in the bucket. This area is just too big.

And as one ranch in a pretty area sells development rights then it also makes neighboring properties development rights a bit more valuable because their scenery has been preserved and so it becomes a better area for ranchettes.

I wish we got something actually useful such as some land to put in a few campsites, trails, fishing access or just about anything.

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weststmbtres 3 years, 10 months ago

What a great way to spend taxpayers dollars to save the ranches from developers. Anybody checked the economy lately. Last I heard you couldn't give land away to developers. Don't get me wrong, I think this kind of program works if development is running rampant and threatening properties like these but for the foreseeable future I think we need to revisit the use of these funds. However, I'd prefer to see LPS subdivisions

A friend of mine who is employed in the real estate industry told me he was trying to work out a reorganization of his mortgage on his primary residence to get himself through the slump we are in. The mortgage company denied his request because he owned a piece of dirt in north routt. They told him to sell it an use the funds to pay down his mortgage. Anybody looked at the north routt dirt sales lately? You can't give property away up there and here we are paying large landowners millions to protect their land from the nonexistant threat of developers. And the large landowners who tend to lean to the right politically say they never get government handouts.

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housepoor 3 years, 10 months ago

I'm with you Scott. If you took all of the $$ spent on PDR and Conservation easments over the years and bought land we'd have something that was actually benefit a to the community. Instead this is just like a lotto for the wealthy, what a joke.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 10 months ago

weststbt, Well if you believe in the general principle of buying development rights to preserve open space then the time to buy is during a down market.

The problem as I see it, is that these properties are generally not that unique compared to the unique qualities of virtually every ranch in the area. Unless the goal is every ranch in the county then all that is really happening is that the ranchers that are considering developing face a little bit less potential competition and can promote their development as being next to deeded open space.

There is some preservation value in acquiring the development rights to ranches in the neighborhood of existing development that have expensive land values and so there is clear pressure to develop.

But with properties 30 miles north or south of SB there are just too many other potential properties to develop that having the development rights to some of these ranches is not going to result in any development being stopped. It'll still happen in the same general area.

And if these properties than can no longer be developed are so unique that maybe someday in the future they could become a park or such then these public funds should also purchase the rights for some sort of public access. Having driven some less traveled county roads, there seems to be many places where the road loosely follows a creek and there could be picnic or camping in some places between the creek and road instead of no trespassing signs.

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Neil O'Keeffe 3 years, 10 months ago

I believe PDR's originated not only to preserve open space, but more importantly to allow ranching families the opportinity to hold onto their land, maintain their ranching heritage and pass it on to the next generation rather than be forced to sell because they could no longer afford to pay the onerous property taxes due to inflated property values. Does anyone still see value in this approach???

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Neil O'Keeffe 3 years, 10 months ago

BTW who is goint to pick up the trash at all of those newly created parks and picnic areas?

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TWill 3 years, 10 months ago

Rokboat,

Although your suggestion of these protected areas preserving ranching heritage and land through the generations is quite a feel-good story that we'd all like to believe, the reality of these "preservation" deals is much closer to the above comment from weststmbtres regarding tax benefits for large landowners.

Many conservation easements we read about are no more than strategic tax manuevers by saavy landowners. Not, the warm and fuzzy, save the earth aspect that we are sold.

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Neil O'Keeffe 3 years, 10 months ago

TWill, the reality is they are giving up future/higher development and resale value in exchange for the lower tax base. Seems like a fair trade to me and most others that value open space vs. sprawl. Stick that in your warm and fuzzy pipe and smoke it.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 10 months ago

But what is really the development potential for ranches 30 miles from Steamboat? And does it really make a difference when maybe 1% of the ranch land a good distance from SB is protected from development?

I have not seen ranches near the Flat Tops being profitably developed. In fact, I think there was an attempted developed west of Pburg some years ago and when I took that seasonal road again last summer, it looked like they had been absorbed back into a ranch parcel. Economically, that area would probably benefit if a ranch or two was developed.

And if there is some great historic value to protecting a particular ranch from development then with the public funding should come some public access. Not expecting every day access to the entire ranch, but maybe first Saturday of the month there is public access to the historical buildings or whatever.

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TWill 3 years, 10 months ago

You’ve clearly been pulling from the warm & fuzzy pipe with a justification like that. They're simply cashing in now instead of holding onto a piece of depreciating property that no developer, in their right mind, would want to invest in anyway.

The check the landowner receives from the taxpayers will be deposited just the same as the one from a developer. And with the market continuing down the path that it has for the past few years (with little eminent change on the foreseeable horizon), why wouldn't a savvy business person (oops, I mean rancher) want to get some cash from the sale along with receiving the multiple tax benefits associated with a conservation easement?

In an appreciating market, land preservation deals are far more noble for the reasons you state above. But in a depreciating market, like the one we're in, it's simply the landowner seizing an opportunity to liquidate and gain business advantages all done under a warm and fuzzy cloak that the masses seem to welcome with open arms. It’s really public relations genius if you break it down.

I’m not faulting the landowners, its smart business for them. But don’t be fooled either. They’re really just working the system like so many others.

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the_Lizard 3 years, 10 months ago

Scott, you are so right in your assessment of these PDR's. I, for one, don't trust the government and wouldn't let them become a partner on my deed. Quite frankly the day may come when the historical buildings will be open for public access, field trips for the kids, picnics by the creek, and open space for the hiker. But until public access becomes the norm on our ( the routt county taxpayer's) new property, the only beneficiaries outside of the ranchers accepting the payment are indeed; the neighboring land owners.

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weststmbtres 3 years, 10 months ago

My point exactly TWill no developer wants a ranch 30-40 miles from Steamboat so why are we wasting taxpayer dollars to "preserve" land that isn't in danger of development.

It is exactly as you say landowners working the system. I think in light of what we are going through the sytem needs to be changed or at least put on hold until there is some threat of futrure development.

Giving away taxpayer dollars so these large landowers can build new houses and pay off their loans is just throwing our money away especially when our local government can't find the money we need to support our schools, fire depts. and the basic infrasctructure we need to live our day to day lives.

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Ken Reed 3 years, 10 months ago

Kyle/Sledneck/Scott_W,

At the risk of being digitally tarred and feathered, I have a question. Why is there such negativity surrounding "ranchettes." Especially those that are miles outside the city limits.

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kyle pietras 3 years, 10 months ago

No negativity from me. I love to see the big ranches when I drive through our county. This helps preserve them for a long time.

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Ken Reed 3 years, 10 months ago

Thanks Kyle, I guess I thought "ranchettes" meant areas of land that are subdivided into 35+ acre lots. Not exactly big ranches and most of the people that live in these homes aren't really ranchers. Some of these folks (myself included) take "advantage" of ag leases for allowing cattle to graze their property, and I thought this might be where the angst comes from.

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Ken Reed 3 years, 10 months ago

Scott_W,

I like your idea of having "something actually useful such as some land to put in a few campsites, trails, fishing access or just about anything." That turns the situation into a win-win for everyone.

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Neil O'Keeffe 3 years, 10 months ago

That's a whole nother angst. In my mind the "ag leases" are an even bigger scam with no return to the community. Who really knows where the dollars come to fund the PDR programs, can anyone answer that? This country is based on earmarks (if they even qualify which I don't think they do) form both parties.

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housepoor 3 years, 10 months ago

I believe they come from GOCO funds and that County voters approved a actual tax dedicated to PDR's along with a tax for Horizon's, the Library, Museum and School District.........wow! we were feeling pretty good about things back then I guess??

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Ken Reed 3 years, 10 months ago

Neil, When I bought my place in Steamboat I didn't consider the ag lease as a scam, or really too much of a benefit. I was just looking for some room to raise my family and was tired of living on a .25 acre lot in the Denver area. My kids were attending schools that had thousands of students in the same grade. Steamboat was the choice for my family for all the things we like about Steamboat. Friendly folks, great ski area, summers, etc. Part of the decision to buy where we live now was based on the federal lands that surround the place and the May Ranch which was under a conservation agreement, I'll admit. It actually had nothing to do with tax savings because of the ag agreement. Yes, I'm taking advantage of the ag lease, but also contributing to the community. What do earmarks have to do with this?

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Neil O'Keeffe 3 years, 10 months ago

As I stated I'm not sure they would qualify as an earmark but they appear to be a bone that was thrown to a specific segment of the communtiy with liitle overall benefit. In my mind the ag leases make sense if that is actually the primary business of the land owner, however, from what I have seen it is little more than a tax break to the wealthy who wish to call themselves gentlemen farmers/ranchers by planting a few trees and calling it a tree farm or by putting a few highlanders out to pasture. I only brought this up because I feel it is far more obvious and aggregious than the PDR's that seem to have raised some angst. Just my own opinion, nothing more and always open to clarification.

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Neil O'Keeffe 3 years, 10 months ago

Thanks housepoor, no one likes higher taxes but that seems to be the way of paying for things that have been considered to have a greater overall good for the community in question. I'm ok with it even though I don't have kids in the schol system or at Horizons, and go the the library about 3-4 times a year. These are all fantastic programs or facilities that define us as a community and serve the greater good IMHO.

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