CARBONDALE, Colo. - Disagreements about how to plan for growth have reached into a ranching family here.
"I'm retiring anyway,
and ... you can't divide land equitably (among the heirs), but you
can divide cash," says Bob Perry, who with his wife, Ruth, owns the
Sopris Ranch outside of town.
The Perrys have
signed a contract to sell 125 of their 400 irrigated acres to a
California developer who wants to build a golf course. The
development would also feature 685 housing units and completely
take over the adjacent Gray Ranch, which the Perrys now lease for
"If you're going to
live in a pretty place, you're going to have people," says Ruth
Perry, whose family first brought cows to the Sopris Ranch in 1929.
"We've had over 50 years of ranching here, and a wonderful golf
course would be a nice addition to the town."
Marge Perry, Bob's and Ruth's daughter, has a different vision for
the family ranch and other historical ranches in the area - keeping
the land intact in large pieces through deals with governments or
conservation trusts preserving open space.
golf course, says Marge Perry, is "a ridiculous waste of space."
Rather than just give in to development pressures, she believes,
"You can do your best to slow the growth down."
Agricultural land around here once produced beef and potatoes for
local coal miners. Now, with Aspen a half-hour drive away, land is
a luxury selling for $15,000 an acre on
"The nicest thing would be
to maintain the traditional use as a working cattle ranch," says
Lew Ron Thompson, who was born on the Gray Ranch but sold out to an
investor. "It's not economically sound to run an $800 cow and a
$400 calf on $15,000-per-acre land."
Ranch golf course development, along with three other proposed
developments, would more than double the population of this town of
3,100. Town Planner Mark Chain opposed the Gray Ranch golf course,
but the developer, Bob Howard of San Francisco, Calif., lined up
four of the town's six trustees in support, seemingly guaranteeing
the $27 million project will break ground next
Bob Perry says he'd rather see a golf
course than more dense development on the ranchland (the Gray Ranch
property was zoned for nearly twice as many houses as Howard
proposes to build). The golf course, Bob Perry says, will be a
practical version of open space and will perserve some of the rural
Bob Perry says one reason he agreed to
sell was the threat of stringent zoning regulations such as those
already in place in Aspen's Pitkin County. That might lock up his
property and decrease its value, he says. "You can't stop growth
unless you take away property rights."
younger generation is split, with Marge Perry's six brothers and
sisters supporting their parents' decision to sell off some of the
family ranch to the developer, and Marge and her husband, Bill
Fales, opposing the sale and trying to keep their 260-acre ranch
viable. "The golf course is like a gas can thrown on the explosive
growth in the valley," Fales told the town trustees. Fales predicts
that the golf course will only spur already increasing land values
and taxes and force ranchers out even faster.
Last spring Fales lured Stephen Small, a tax lawyer from Boston who
wrote both the U.S. tax law on easements and the book Preserving
Family Lands, to deliver a talk to the Holy Cross Cattleman's
Association near Carbondale.
Small told the
ranchers that he understood they don't like to be told what to do
with their land. "But if you care about your land you have to do
some planning," Small said. "Landowners put easements on their land
for three reasons. They love their land, they love their land, and
they love their land."
Bob Perry, who attended
Small's talk, says he might consider placing some of his land in an
easement, but he remains skeptical. "I don't see the easement man
knocking on the door with a check."