By Daniel Smith
Large-scale growth has arrived in Chaffee County; from Poncha Springs to Buena Vista to Salida; construction, houses and development all reflect that growth.
The growth trend recently was focused on a proposed large development north of Salida at the historic Centerville ranch; a sprawling 950-acre parcel just off U.S. Hwy. 285, across the highway from the Mesa Antero subdivision.
Developer Jeff Ince purchased the land for about $1.3 million, with plans to develop it over two decades as residents seeking a more rural environment came to the area; more than 200 homes were envisioned in the initial plan.
Perhaps because the proposal began to focus attention on the growth trends, many county residents raised concerns about the scale of the development.
Some spoke out at the County Planning Commission, objecting to what they saw as growth threatening the area and specifically, the ranch setting, with its bucolic fields, hills and picturesque viewsheds along the highway.
Fortunately, forward-looking minds came together and are working out a plan that will provide for growth there, but importantly, also preserve the important conservation values – in perpetuity.
Ince, who has already developed a subdivision at Broadview in Chalk Creek Canyon, had initial discussions last year with the Central Colorado Conservancy on a conservation easement in the center of the ranch, with development planned on the north and south.
Ince closed on the ranch property in January and sketch plans for the project came to the county planners shortly after. Discussions on a larger easement restarted, resulting in an historic, perhaps precedent-setting agreement.
Ince worked a reduction in lots (around 65). “I modify and edit as the process moves forward. I did the same thing at the Broadview subdivision; even without the high profile and heavy community feedback, I reduced the lot count by a similar percentage at Broadview.” he said.
The Conservancy was integral to shaping the agreement, Ince stated: “… it has been very good working with (Board President) Cindy Williams and (executive Director) Andrew Mackie on the conservation easement, along with my attorney Greg Powell, who advised me during the process. although it is a complicated transaction, things went very smoothly.”
Mackie said, “The Central Colorado Conservancy has been very interested in this project because of the large number of conservation values related to the property, including maintaining working lands (agriculture), keeping the water rights on the land and not letting them be sold off; wildlife use of the property especially related to the elk migration and mule deer migration; wetlands located on the property; scenic views from the Collegiate Peaks Scenic and Historic Byway and the viewshed into Browns Canyon National Monument.”
And, the easement is forever, Mackie stressed.
“All of what we call ‘conservation values’ are out-lined in the deed of conservation easement and backed up in the baseline document. The conservation values have to be maintained on the property. No changes can happen that negatively impact the conservation values. However, positive changes can happen; ecological restoration for example is a positive change,” he said.
The Conservancy monitors its easements each year and enforces the terms, with plenty of law to back it up. a national insurance program provides additional financial back-up if the terms ever have to be defended in court, he said.
The easement agreement needs $1.3 million in order to reimburse Ince for development costs, hopefully in grants from organizations such as Great Outdoors Colorado and others.
A goal has been established to raise $100,000 in local “seed money” to demonstrate strong local support for the effort to potential granters.
Support was evident immediately, with over $20,000 raised in the first 24 hours. Currently, the local fund is more than halfway there, above $50,000. The money must be in place by august, and hopes are high grant funding will soon follow.
Williams noted county commissioners were impressed with the local effort. Commissioner Keith Baker commented that the cooperative attitude of all parties led to a balanced agreement.“The conservation values have to be maintained on the property. No changes can happen that negatively impact the conservation values.”
“Fortunately, all parties reached an arrangement that will accomplish all the objectives. Now the community, consisting of a number of entities, must step up to achieve the vision of that agreement. If successful, this could be a case study in what conservation easements in rapidly-growing rural counties are all about,” Baker added.
Williams said the partnership agreement mirrors what 1,500 citizens involved with envision Chaffee County formulated.
“Those visions include sustainable agriculture, rural landscapes and development focused in and around towns, a thriving and livable economy, healthy forests, waters and wildlife, and a friendly, engaged community,” she said.
“The Centerville easement is a rare win-win-win-win, meeting all four visions. The agreement keeps 650 acres of irrigated ranch land in production and protects a treasured rural landscape that both locals and visitors driving by Centerville will enjoy forever. It supports a strong economy, providing responsible development and growth and protecting the local character that visitors come to enjoy. It protects critical winter range and migration corridors for wildlife while also tying local water rights to the land – forever,” she said.
“And it all happened because community – citizens, conservationists, developers – were able to work together and craft a great project. Chaffee County really is a special place, where people are working together to support a future that is based on common ground and win-win solutions,” she added.
Residents wishing to contribute to the local seed money can contact the Conservancy at 719-539-7700 or online at www.centralcoloradoconservancy.org