Cows may be mooing off historic ranch
One of the last bona fide cattle ranches in Pitkin County is being eyed for the development of a handful of luxury homes.
Tom Waldeck of Aspen has an option to buy 567 of 1,167 acres of the Fender Ranch in Emma. He wants to redevelop two existing homes on the land and scatter five more on the sprawling ranch located near where East and West Sopris Creek Roads converge with Emma Road.
It will be a change for the historic ranch, Waldeck acknowledged.
“Cattle ranching doesn’t pay any more,” he said.
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But he touted his preliminary plan as one that will preserve irrigated pastures and much of the feel of the ranch.
“We’re trying to make this thing work without disturbing a lot of land,” he said.
In a meeting with about 40 members of the Emma Caucus on Monday night, Waldeck tried to sell his plan as better than alternatives. He said he feels it would be a “crime” to allow typical suburban-style development in the rural Emma area so he is pursuing only seven homes.
“You can fight it, the Fenders will stay on it, somebody else will come along,” Waldeck said. He suggested “some guy from L.A. or Chicago,” who doesn’t feel a strong connection to ranch land would likely propose a grander plan, with 20 or 30 homes. The zoning at the ranch theoretically allows one home per 30 acres.
Waldeck is also attempting to develop nine homes in a different corner of Emma on property he bought from a different ranching family.
His sales on the Fender Ranch project produced mixed results. Some caucus members expressed support; others voiced concerns.
Grocer Tom Clark, who has lived by the Fenders for 26 years, accused Waldeck of insulting the intelligence of caucus members by inflating the development potential. Pitkin County has tough land-use codes that limit development on areas of the ranch like steep slopes, ridge lines and in wildlife habitat.
“Twenty homes wouldn’t happen there. It ain’t ever going to happen there. Let’s talk about real issues here,” Clark said.
He suggested that painting the denser development scenario was just a scare tactic. There are also potential buyers who would preserve the ranch as is, he claimed.
“I hate to say it but I think we might have the wrong buyer,” Clark concluded.
Pat Fender, who has been on the ranch for 45 years with her husband, Bill, said the property has been listed for seven years without selling. She said her family is pleased with what they have seen of Waldeck’s plan.
Pat and Bill run cattle with their son, Willie, and his wife, Fran. Old-timers identify it as one of five cattle ranches in Pitkin County where the family still depends exclusively on selling beef for their living.
The Fenders had their entire 1,167 acres listed for $10.5 million. The amount of Waldeck’s potential purchase for part of the property wasn’t disclosed.
Waldeck and his land-use planner, Doug Pratte, said it appears that a new Pitkin County zoning code would allow homes of up to 8,250 square feet if transferable development rights were acquired. That would reduce development elsewhere. He said he was more likely to develop homes of 5,000 to 6,000 square feet.
Like Clark, the development plan concerned area resident Anne Austin-Clapper.
“I’m nervous we’re not preserving Emma in the way we all want to preserve it,” she said. “We need to be concerned about Emma becoming the next Aspen.”
She said many midvalley residents that fled Aspen did so because the prices in the upper valley became too expensive. She warned that developments like Waldeck’s will bring higher prices to the midvalley.
Austin-Clapper also questioned if Waldeck would stick to the number of proposed homes as his planning progressed. Waldeck promised he would place conservation easements on the ranch to prevent further development.
An equal number of people in the caucus crowd spoke in favor of Waldeck’s plan. Steve Swanson said the plan “makes sense” compared to potential alternatives such as “golf courses and things like that.”
“I’m extremely impressed and glad you’re taking this approach,” said Norm Clasen, a resident of Sopris Mountain Ranch. He said he preferred to see the home sites dispersed rather than clustered.
The majority of the audience didn’t express an opinion about the project. Some asked questions. One woman inquired about what could happen on the 600 acres of the Fender Ranch not included in Waldeck’s proposal. Pat Fender declined to answer.
Waldeck said his own development plans still must be determined before he submits something official to Pitkin County.
“Nothing is set in stone,” he said.
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