Bair Chase seeks public’s goodwill |

Bair Chase seeks public’s goodwill

A downvalley golf development that alienated some residents by disturbing a winter sanctuary of elk and demolishing a historic barn has reorganized with plans to restore community goodwill.

John Young, the new general manager and project director of the Bair Chase project, said he won’t cast blame for any actions taken previously on the project. Instead he will concentrate on the future.

“There’s no question the elk … and the removal of the barn was an issue,” Young said. “We probably could have done better.”

Young took the helm of the project from Jim Wells about three months ago, right when the big red barn with U76 painted in bold white letters was leveled. The structure was highly visible south of the intersection of Highway 82 and Cattle Creek Road.

Two Garfield County commissioners and numerous residents said they felt betrayed that the structure was demolished. George Hanlon, who tried to develop a different golf project at the ranch, said he would leave the barn. Garfield County doesn’t have any land-use code provisions that protect historic structures.

Young said he wasn’t in a position to prevent the demolition and, frankly, wasn’t sure what he could have done. Some of the wood was salvaged, he said, but the structure was in rough enough condition that enhancing it and keeping it on site would have been difficult.

“My reaction was we could have done a better job,” Young said. “Clearly it was an icon to a lot of people.”

He also questioned the decision to start work on an irrigation ditch last March that disturbed an elk herd wintering at the site. Skittish elk seemed to eye heavy equipment warily.

All the earth-moving on the golf course came to a screeching halt earlier this summer, and the 280-acre construction site was temporarily abandoned. “We definitely got out ahead of ourselves,” Young said.

The work started in earnest before permanent financing was in place, he said. Now the investors are close to securing permanent financing and a bridge loan has been obtained, allowing work to resume on a smaller scale. Young said 40,000 cubic yards of dirt are being moved per week now, compared to 100,000 cubic yards before the financial difficulty.

Most of the investors in the Bair Chase ownership group are from Austin, Texas. Young said the securing of permanent financing is just a matter of time. He noted that the group is closing on the Sopris Restaurant building next week as planned.

The owners have approval for 120 multifamily residential units and 110 single-family homes, Young said. They are obligated to build about 24 employee units and are investigating whether to build on- or off-site.

Rees Jones, who Young categorized as one of the top three golf course architects, is designing the course. It will likely open in 2007, joining the adjacent Ironbridge and Aspen Glen developments, as well as River Valley Ranch in Carbondale.

As part of a fresh start for the project, the owners will “leave Bair Chase behind” and unveil a new name as part of a new marketing effort, Young said. He said “unprecedented” environmental friendliness of the completed project will help restore its standing with the community.

Five new ponds on the property will be landscaped in a way that will make them particularly alluring to wildlife, he said. One of the greatest qualities of the former ranch is its water rights. It will allow the creation of two new streams; rehabilitation of Cattle Creek, which was overgrazed in the area; and extensive irrigation of the land. Only five of the 18 golf holes will have homes built along them so there will be extensive use of “bioislands,” or areas of natural vegetation that cut pesticide use.

Young said Troon Golf, known worldwide for working without pesticides and herbicides, will manage the course.

“Rather than the traditional view of golf that they’re chemical dumps, when we’re done people are going to say they’re incredible,” Young said.

He noted that at least 57 fledglings were hatched this spring in a blue heron rookery in riparian areas in the 1.5 miles or so of Roaring Fork River frontage on the property. The company honored a setback from the river to preserve the rookery.

In addition to its environmental stewardship, the project will restore goodwill by integrating itself with the community, Young said. It plans to allow extensive use of its facilities for fund-raisers for civic causes and community events “to allow the gypsies in the palace, if you will.”

Young, a longtime local resident, is savvy about political sensitivities in the Roaring Fork Valley. He was the town manager at Snowmass Village from 1979 to 1988, then spent 14 years as a consultant for affordable housing and development projects in the valley and throughout Colorado. He spent the last four years on the team developing the Canyons, a massive resort at Park City, Utah.

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