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Profits of preservation

The sun sets on a section of the Colorado River that Granby hopes to put in to a conservation easement with the Colorado Headwaters Land Trust. The easement would make the town almost $3 million dollars and preserve over 700 acres of open space near the corner of US Highway 40 and US Highway 34.
Courtesy of Paul Chavoustie

Part of a failed development project is on its way to becoming open space that would protect wildlife and make Granby almost $3 million.

The town board of trustees has begun the process of negotiating an easement with the Colorado Headwaters Land Trust on certain lands Granby owns, specifically a portion of the former Shorefox property near US Highway 40 and US Highway 34.

An easement is a contract restricting development and subdivision, and anything else that could be done with the land must be negotiated between parties. The town has begun the negotiation process with Colorado Headwaters, and the board wants to get input from stakeholders before anything is finalized.

“We want your feedback. Nothing is written in stone yet,” Granby Mayor Paul Chavoustie said Friday during a public meeting to discuss the open space. “It’s what you guys think could and should go out there. Once you do a land trust easement, it’s pretty much poured in concrete.”

The Shorefox development had been on the market for $60 million after a foreclosure in 2008, but it didn’t sell in part because of the investment needed for the property. In 2016, the town purchased the roughly 1,500 acres of land, including 1.5 miles of the Colorado River and 233 acre-feet of water rights, for $4.5 million.

Later that year, the town sold 400 acres to Sun Communities for $6.2 million to become River Run Ranch, an RV park currently in the works. Through this deal, the town kept 1,100 acres of land, the river and water rights while recovering the value of the entire property, paying off old town debt and supplementing town reserves.

The land trust will put 739 acres of the town’s land into an easement, including the section of the river. Taxpayers will not pay anything for this and the land will still belong to the town.

A conservation easement is a tool to conserve real property, Colorado Headwaters executive director Jeremy Krones explained, meaning even if the property were to change hands, the title document would stand. The easement restricts property rights of what can be done to the land, but the town will still own it after this process.

Land easements can be donated or purchased, though usually it’s a mix of both, as in this case. The $3 million Colorado Headwaters will pay for the easement does not cover the entire value, so the remaining amount will be a donation.

The mayor and Krones both said the primary reason for this easement, beyond the money, is preservation and protection.

“People come to Colorado, people come to Grand County for a reason,” Krones said. “It is our wide open spaces. It’s our access. It’s the wildlife that we see. It’s the water that we have. Conservation easements help to protect that.”

A portion of the easement will be a “no-go” zone, which wildlife experts say is critical for protecting elk and other animals in the area. Initial drafting of trails is roughly 10 miles that could include Nordic, biking, equestrian and multiuse trails, but this is all subject to change based on public feedback.

The town would pay an estimated $60,500 in mostly legal expenses, but would make it back with the money Colorado Headwaters would provide for the easement. A portion of the $3 million will go toward creating the trails and other amenities, like restrooms, on the easement.

Contract negotiations can take at least 10 months, according to Krones, but the contract will need to be signed by December 2021. No plans for the land will be finalized or permanent until the closing date. After the easement is settled, Colorado Headwaters will monitor the use of land annually to make sure the contract is upheld.

The town board was expected to approve a memorandum of understanding with Colorado Headwaters at the Granby trustee’s Tuesday meeting. The mayor emphasized that there would be many more discussions moving forward.


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