Summit County commissioners poised to change price model for rural development right transfers — realigning with modern market trends |

Summit County commissioners poised to change price model for rural development right transfers — realigning with modern market trends

A program designed to redirect development from rural to more urban areas has outdated pricing for land, county staff said

A field leads toward a ridge line of the Mosquito range near Clinton Gulch reservoir, pictured on July 23, 2022. Under a program known as a transferable development right, rural property owners in backcountry areas are able to sell development rights to more populated areas, such as towns, in order to better preserve the backcountry.
Andrew Maciejewski/Summit Daily News

The Summit Board of County Commissioners appears poised to up the price for 20 acres of land purchased through a government program aimed at redirecting growth and development to more populous areas in order to protect the backcountry. 

Known as a transferable development right, the program allows private property owners — typically in rural areas — to sell their development rights to more urban areas better equipped to handle the density. 

Backcountry areas are “often in sensitive environmental locations that are located above timberline locations, ridgelines,” said Suzanne Pugsley, community development planner for the county, “and landowners of these claims have the right to develop them for residential purposes. But development on these claims could obstruct valued viewsheds and recreational access to national forest system land.”

As a remedy, the county, along with other local governments, adopted the transferable development right program “to more appropriately accommodate that development” by creating government-run banks where rights can be bought and sold, Pugsley said. 

Each “right” consists of 20 acres of land — the cost of which is based on the median sale price of those 20 acres over past years, according to Pugsley. But current prices are outdated. 

For example, the cost of land purchased through the banks of the Joint Upper Blue, partly run by the town of Breckenridge, and Countywide Upper Blue, run by the county, are based on the median sale price since 2000. A separate county-run account for the Tenmile and Snake River Basins is based on the median since 2007. 

For the Joint Upper Blue and Countywide Upper Blue, that translates to a cost of $95,820 per 20 acres. For the Tenmile and Snake River Basins, it means a cost of $65,890. 

Those prices do not reflect the current values of such land, Pugsley said, which has increased sustainably in recent years. A report by the Colorado-based real estate organization Land Title Guarantee Company shows the price of vacant land in Summit County has nearly doubled since 2020 — going from more than $344,000 to just over $666,000 in 2022. 

To accommodate this increase, Pugsley recommended that commissioners base land prices off the median sale price of the last seven years for all its transferable development right bank accounts. This would raise the price of 20 acres of land to $237,070 for the Countywide Upper Blue account and to $102,565 for the Tenmile and Snake River Basins’ account. 

By raising the sale price, Pugsley said the county can avoid devaluing land which could “disincentivize property owners from selling.”

Breckenridge’s town council has already signaled it will make those same adjustments for its Joint Upper Blue bank, according to both Pugsley and Mark Truckey, Breckenridge’s community development director.

Commissioner Josh Blanchard asked county staff why they’ve reported a slowdown in the number of transferable development right transactions since the program began — and questioned if a price change may affect that. 

Pugsley said much of the program is over 20 years old and said much of the rural land rights have already been sold — leading to roughly 2,400 acres of land protected in the Upper Blue Basin, for example. 

Truckey added that “early on, we just had more interest in the program.”

Both Blanchard and Commissioner Tamara Pogue signaled they supported the price change, which will likely be made through a joint resolution with Breckenridge later this month.

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