Steamboat Springs City officials said Friday that they expect to have a purchase agreement for the 580-acre Orton parcel on the table for signatures by Monday, but the deal might involve more than simply a land transaction.
City Manager Jon Roberts said City Attorney Tony Lettunich had told him to expect the nonbinding deal Monday in time to make the deadline for a $600,000 grant application with Great Outdoors Colorado.
“It’s exciting,” Roberts said. “We should have it ready to package up and send to GOCo.”
He was quick to add that the purchase agreement would be conditional upon the city’s ability to land the GOCo grant and City Council’s approval of the deal in the form of an enabling ordinance. Approving the ordinance would require two public hearings and City Council votes on first and second reading.
The negotiations that continued Friday and perhaps into this weekend likely involve property owner Lyman Orton’s vision for the 580 acres on Emerald Mountain. Orton envisions a public facility that could be used by youth groups and as a Nordic skiing center in winter.
City Council President Pro Tem Jon Quinn said he originally thought that the purchase of the Orton property was a straight land transaction that would bring the property’s hiking and biking trails on the property into the public realm. However, in the last week, he’s learned that the proposed deal entails terms that might call for the city and Orton to share the cost of building a public facility for youth groups and a Nordic touring center on the land.
“I think the ongoing negotiations are probably more about what happens with Lyman’s vision” than about the (purchase) price, Quinn said. “It’s more complicated than we initially knew. Lyman didn’t want to just sell the property. He’s looking 10 years down the road.”
Quinn said Orton might be willing to return some proceeds of the land sale back into the cost of building a public facility.
City Councilwoman Meg Bentley confirmed Quinn’s perception of the cost-sharing aspects of the land deal, and she expressed her enthusiasm for the idea.
“Of all the land deals that have taken place while I’ve been on City Council, this would be my favorite,” she said. “I’m not an open space-at-all-costs person, and some of the matching grants for real estate in the past were pretty far out there. But if we can possibly get this one, I think it will be absolutely incredible for the city of Steamboat Springs.”
Quinn also expressed enthusiasm for the concept of building the public facility on the Orton property but was cautious about the city funding the project.
“I think the long-term vision Lyman has set is really a good one. I’d love to se a Nordic center up there,” Quinn said. “It’s good for the economy. I think there’s enthusiasm about the vision. It’s about how do we get there?
“Every dollar has to be carefully scrutinized right now. In front of us at the moment is a land deal. I don’t know if there’s a way to fund the vision piece. Our capital reserves aren’t in great shape, and I don’t know if I foresee that situation improving in the near future.”
Reached by phone Friday, Orton said negotiations were continuing.
“I haven’t signed anything,” he said. “We’re busy going back and forth practically as we speak.”
Attorney Bob Weiss, who is representing Orton in the negotiations, said he thinks it is premature to say the parties have reached an agreement in principal.
“Lyman would like to see the city own the property so there can be continued access to it by the public for hiking and biking,” Weiss said. “I think the city realizes the importance of the property. Everybody’s trying to find a way to do this and acting with good faith and enthusiasm.”
Orton was seeking a little more than $2 million for the property he proposes to sell to the city. He owns a total of about 1,200 acres on Emerald’s north side — south and west of the Fairview neighborhood and south of 13th Street, also known as Twentymile Road.
The 580 acres he’s offered to the city are outside of city limits and directly west of the dirt portion of Blackmer Drive that winds up the mountain from Fairview.
The land previously was placed under a conservation easement held by the Yampa Valley Land Trust that does not ensure public access. However, Orton has allowed public use of the land for recreation such as hiking and mountain biking.
One of the considerations likely being weighed by the city is whether a future private owner would extend that same consideration to the public.
Bentley said if it turns out the city can’t afford Orton’s ultimate vision for the land, the deal won’t happen. But she thinks it would represent a form of economic development.
“If it’s out of our league, then we can’t do it,” she said. “But we can’t continue to advertise Steamboat the way we always have. We have to increase our market share in different groups of people all over the world. We have our (elite) Nordic athletes out there waving the flag and in terms of turning Steamboat into a Nordic destination, and having a family Nordic center up there that could be used by youth groups in the summer, I think it would help businesses and the community. I can’t see a thing wrong with it.”
Quinn said he would wait to see how the deal put in front of him Monday is structured before drawing any conclusions about the purchase agreement.