Timeline tight for Emerald land purchase | SteamboatToday.com

Timeline tight for Emerald land purchase

City, landowner in negotiations for deal as GOCo deadline looms

Rex Brice hikes up Blackmer Drive on Thursday afternoon with his dogs River, left, and Juno. The 580 acres Lyman Orton is offering to sell to the city are outside of city limits and lie directly west of the dirt portion of Blackmer Drive that winds up the mountain from Fairview. City staff and Orton still are negotiating a land purchase, but the deadline looms for the city to use its $600,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado.
John F. Russell

— The city likely has just days to reach a deal with landowner Lyman Orton if it wants to put $600,000 in grant funds toward a massive land purchase on the north side of Emerald Mountain.

Orton is offering to sell 580 acres appraised at about $2 million to the city. The sale would permanently allow public use of the popular hiking and mountain biking area but comes at a time of an extremely tight city budget. The city has $600,000 in grant funds from Great Outdoors Colorado that could go toward the land purchase.

But Winnie DelliQuadri, the city’s government programs manager, said Thursday that the grant expires Dec. 13 and GOCo requires 90 days before that expiration to do its own due diligence before releasing funds. That means that barring an extension or other such agreement, the city would need to submit a purchase contract to GOCo by Monday.

“To truly meet the 90 days, I would need to tell GOCo that we’re going to do it and start getting things out to them,” DelliQuadri said. “Bottom line is, we’re basically out of time … to do any kind of land negotiation.”

But she and Orton said Thursday that talks are continuing. DelliQuadri said she was acting on direction received during an executive, or secret, session of the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night to discuss the purchase.

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“Council is interested in purchasing the land, and we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to put something together with Lyman by the deadline,” DelliQuadri said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. … We are still in negotiations, we’re still talking, (but) we don’t have a lot of time left to talk because the GOCo deadline is looming.”

DelliQuadri and Orton decl­ined to discuss the specifics of the negotiations. But it’s possible the sticking point is related to price. City Councilman Jon Quinn, for example, said last week that he’d be more willing to discuss a price substantially less than the appraised value of about $2 million.

City Council President Cari Hermacinski said Tuesday night that council members expressed reservations about the purchase during the executive session. City finance officials are crafting a 2011 budget based on a third consecutive year of projected reductions in sales tax revenues.

“We said keep the negotiation rolling,” Hermacinski said about the City Council’s direction. “There was definitely a lot of reluctance from council.”

Orton owns a total of about 1,200 acres on Emerald’s north side, south and west of the Fairview neighborhood and south of 13th Street, also known as Twentymile Road. The 580 acres he has offered to the city are outside of city limits and lie directly west of the dirt portion of Blackmer Drive that winds up the mountain from Fairview. The acres are under a conservation easement through the Yampa Valley Land Trust. Orton long has allowed public use of the land for recreation such as hiking and mountain biking.

The acres for sale include numerous singletrack trails, Heart Meadow, a large upper meadow and many areas mountain bikers use.

Land Trust Executive Dire­ctor Susan Dorsey said last week that instead of selling the land to the city, Orton could theoretically sell it to a private owner who would have the option of closing public access.

DelliQuadri said GOCo’s diligence process is extensive.

“There are probably 30 different due diligence items that they have to approve — and if they don’t approve any one of those, they probably won’t release the funds,” DelliQuadri said.

She said meeting the 90-day deadline is crucial to beginning that process.

“If we come to an agreement with Lyman, we would have to scramble.”

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