First valuations for private 42-acre Chihuahua parcel rejected by Forest Service, second appraisal denied by the private land owners; appraisals now under review by regional an national Forest Service officials
SUMMIT COUNTY — The complex Snake River land swap is once again grinding slowly forward as top-level Forest Service officials in Washington, D.C. review results of the latest appraisal in the proposed trade.
The deal has been in the works for nearly 10 years, and the key proponent, Keystone developer Gary Miller, said he’s spent almost $2 million dollars on his effort to swap the privately owned 42-acre Chihuahua inholding for a 21-acre tract of publicly owned national forest land near the River Run gondola that has preliminary zoning approval for 21 homes.
As initially envisioned, the trade would also include a pair of national forest parcels in the Breckenridge area that would go into town ownership — the Claimjumper parcel, targeted for affordable housing development, and another piece of land near Cucumber Gulch that could be added to the town’s open space portfolio.
At the crux of the deal is the status of the Chihuahua parcel, high in the Snake River Basin along Peru Creek. The land was platted as town site back in the mining days. Miller and his co-owners have said that legal status confers certain development rights that could enable construction of an RV park, for example, or a few high-end trophy homes.
The trade stalled last fall, when an appraisal that Miller and his partners paid for was rejected by the Forest Service. The agency agreed with the values tabbed to the River Run parcel, as well as the Breckenridge pieces, but could not approve the sought-after value for the Chihuahua land.
Under federal land trade rules, the various parcels assembled for a swap must be within 25 percent of equal value. Sometimes, cash can be added to the deal to even things out.
After the appraisal was denied last fall, the Forest Service agreed to do another appraisal, this time at taxpayer expense. The agency backs the acquisition of the Chihuahua land for its natural resource and recreation values.
But after the latest review, Miller and his partners said they didn’t agree with the new value for the Chihuahua parcel — too low to complete the deal as originally planned.
“The second appraisal done by the Forest Service … came up with a value the proponents didn’t agree with,” said Paul Semmer, lands specialist for the Dillon Ranger District of the Forest Service. “The good news is, the exchange is not dead,” he added, referring to the ongoing review at the agency’s regional and national offices. Semmer said the agency is hoping to have a decision on the review sometime this month.
“A lot of Chihuahua LLC’s concerns were that there was inaccurate information in the appraisal,” said Todd Robertson, former director of Summit County’s open space and trails department who now works for Western Land Group, a private company that facilitates swaps for a percentage of the total value.
“Some of the key issues are assumptions about the levels and types of access that could occur at Chihuahua if it was developed,” Robertson said. “Both sides know it’s a tough appraisal. We all want the best possible outcome.”
For the Forest Service and the county, that would be no development on Chihuahua. For Miller, it would mean ownership of the parcel at River Run, ripe for development of 21 slopeside homes. Miller has also claimed from the beginning that he wants to make sure the Chihuahua land goes into public ownership as an act of beneficence.
He said his partners in the LLC have certain development plans for Chihuahua in mind. At one point, Miller floated plans for an affordable housing development on the land.
Filed under: Dillon Ranger District, Environment, federal government, forests, public lands, Summit County Colorado, US Forest Service, White River National Forest Tagged: | Chihuahua, Gary Miller, land swaps, land trades, Peru Creek, Snake River, Summit County, Summit County News, U.S. Forest Service