New appraisals under way in big Summit land trade
summit daily news
SUMMIT COUNTY – The key players in a major land swap are once again juggling the values of four Summit County parcels to try and make the deal fit federal guidelines for such trades.
The Snake River land exchange would convey the private 43-acre Chihuahua parcel, located in the Snake River backcountry, to the U.S. Forest Service. In return, the agency would give up 21 acres of land near the base of the River Run gondola with preliminary zoning approval for 24 slopeside units.
Two national forest parcels near Breckenridge are also part of the proposed deal. The Claimjumper parcel, along Airport Road, could be acquired by the town. Part of the land is slated for affordable workforce housing. Another parcel adjacent to the Cucumber Gulch nature preserve is important for natural resource values.
The trade process started about 10 years ago. It stalled last year when the Forest Service rejected an appraisal for the Chihuahua parcel. Now, the agency has started a new appraisal for all four parcels, expected to be complete by the end of November.
Gary Miller, owner of the Chihuahua parcel, paid for the first appraisal. Miller said he’s spent more than $1 million on the trade proposal thus far. This time, the Forest Service will pay the cost, estimated at about $40,000 by an agency land expert last year.
Most often, the proponents of a trade pay for the appraisals, but it’s not unheard of for the federal agency to share the cost, said Christopher Krupp, an attorney with a Seattle-based group that monitors trades.
The Forest Service offered to pay for the new appraisal as a sign of it’s commitment to the exchange, said Paul Semmer, lands specialist with the Dillon Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service.
“We’ve got too much invested in this trade. It’s definitely in the public interest,” Semmer said.
“We’d really like to get it done,” Miller said. “We could make more money the other way,” Miller added, referring to the potential for development on the Chihuahua parcel.
The Forest Service, along with county officials, have backed the deal because the Chihuahua parcel includes important wildlife habitat, wetlands and recreational values.
In all, the Forest Service is willing to trade 74 acres of public land for the Chihuahua parcel. In an appraisal that expired last year, the three federal parcels were valued at a combined $4.825 million. The Forest Service did not accept the appraised value of the Chihuahua parcel and therefore did not release that figure to the public.
The parcel was platted as a town site back in the mining days, with old maps showing more than 500 lots. But part of the reason the trade has taken so long is that the parcel’s current development potential has never been accurately determined.
Because of its history, co-owner Gary Miller has said up to 180 homes could be developed on the Chihuahua land.
Federal rules require that parcels in a trade be close to equal value – within 25 percent. Last year, the Forest Service OK’d appraisals for the three federal parcels: River Run ($1.9 million), Claimjumper ($1.76 million) and Cucumber Gulch ($1.165 million). The total for all three parcels of federal land (81.3 acres) is $4.825 million.
The appraisals for the Snake River deal were done by a private company, Peterson Appraisal Company, under contract to Miller and the Chihuahua partnership and under Forest Service supervision. The work was completed last fall, but the appraisals expired this spring.
The deal hit a snag when the agency could not come up with an acceptable value for the privately owned Chihuahua parcel to make the deal come out even. Part of the difficulty is that Summit County hasn’t pinned an absolute development potential to the Chihuahua land.
Early on in the process, county officials disputed Miller’s claim that several hundred units could be built on the parcel. But the land’s historic legal status as a town muddies the picture. County officials hoped that getting the trade done would eliminate development potential on the land and avoid a battle over development rights on the land. That issue could end up in court, with outcome uncertain, according to county attorney Jeff Huntley.
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