Snake River land swap on hold | SummitDaily.com

Snake River land swap on hold

BOB BERWYN
summit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY ” A land trade in the Keystone area aimed at swapping a 43-acre private parcel for slopeside national forest land at the ski resort is now on hold.

Appraisals for the tracts of land expired last month. Based on U.S. Forest Service regulations, all the parcels must have an updated appraisal before a trade can proceed.

The trade has been in the pipeline for several years. Private owners want to trade the 43-acre Chihuahua inholding ” surrounded by White River National Forest land in the upper Snake River Basin ” for 74 acres of national forest land, including 21 acres near the River Run gondola.

The River Run site has preliminary approval for a townhome development.

The town of Breckenridge is the other key player in the deal, looking to acquire two pieces of Forest Service land, including:

– The Claimjumper parcel, off Airport Road in Breckenridge, potentially for affordable housing;

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– The 16.8-acre Cucumber Gulch parcel east of Ski Hill Road (County Road 3), north of the new Breckenridge Ski Area Peak 7 base area.

Regional Forest Service land experts approved the appraisals for the federal parcels in the trade, but the parties couldn’t agree on a value for the Chihuahua parcel.

Federal land trade rules require that the private and public parcels be close to equal value. A difference of up to 25 percent can be made up with cash.

The overall idea of land trades is to benefit the public by acquiring private parcels with high recreation, environmental and scenic values. At the same time, the Forest Service can unload land near urban areas that’s no longer very forest-like.

The Chihuahua parcel is seen as a key recreation site with good wildlife habitat, but there has been disagreement about the value of the land, based on its development potential.

The Chihuahua land was legally designated decades ago as the site for a town with hundreds of lots but never developed. The development potential of the land is a big part of what determines its value. It’s never been completely clear what could be built on the Chihuahua parcel.

Appraisals are supposed to be based on up-to-date economic conditions. Recent sales of similar properties serve as key indicators for the valuation.

Economic conditions have changed dramatically since the existing appraisals for the properties were submitted. With no credit available for large real estate development projects, real estate values have dropped in some parts of the country.

Adding to the uncertainy, all the parties to the trade are bound by federal rules restricting what they can directly say about the values of the trade parcels.

Tracking land values in the Rocky Mountain region and in western Colorado has been difficult, based on a decline in the number of transactions. With low volumes there are fewer comparable sales, and the numbers can be skewed by just a few transactions, experts said.

Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.