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Change will encourage saving of ag. land

Donna Daniels
Staff Writer

The Garfield County commissioners closed a loophole in the county’s land use regulations Monday to make it easier for owners of large tracts of land to subdivide a small portion and preserve the bulk as agricultural land.

In 2000, the commissioners adopted the Rural Land Development Exemption Option, which allows owners of parcels larger than 70 acres to put 80 percent into a conservation easement for 40 years and allow development on the remaining 20 percent.

In order to qualify for the option, a landowner could not have changed the property’s legal description since Jan. 1, 1973, the year the county adopted its zoning regulations.

At the request of the Western Colorado Agricultural Heritage Fund, the commissioners on Monday changed that date to Oct. 16, 2000, the date the commissioners adopted the Rural Land Development Exemption Option.

“A number of landowners have explored that option, but determined that they do not qualify for it” because of the 1973 date restriction, said county planner Mark Bean.

“We have three clients interested” in using the option, said WCAHF executive director Shannon Meyer. “But they haven’t been able to use it because they added three acres or the property was split because of inheritance.”

WCAHF is a Carbondale-based nonprofit that helps landowners deed-restrict their property for conservation easements.

“WCAHF’s goal was to create a land use process that encouraged the preservation of agricultural land by providing incentives to landowners who agreed to develop only a portion of their property, preserving the remainder for use as agricultural land or open space,” Meyer said in a letter to Bean last November.

The letter was also signed by Carbondale rancher Rex Coffman and landowners Cassie Cerise and Robert Burry, who have expressed interest in attaching conservation easements to their land.

WCAHF drafted the original regulations in the fall of 1999 and brought them to the county, said executive director Shannon Meyer. A task force of ranchers, developers and environmentalists was formed.

One of the points of compromise was the 40-year deed restriction on conservation easements, Meyer said.

“Originally we wanted a perpetual easement, but that met with a lot of resistance from the development community,” she said.

“We have some reservations about term easement,” Meyer said of the 40-year deed restriction, because it doesn’t allow the landowner to qualify for tax credits.

Eventually the draft regulations were agreed upon by the whole group.

“We had the strong backing of these diverse groups,” she said.

Although County Commissioner Larry McCown supported the date change, he said the original intent of the 1973 date was to discourage landowners from splitting their property into a number of smaller tracts, filing separate applications for the development exemption option and creating a large development in a rural area.

“We didn’t want the date to be in the future so people could subdivide their property into a number of clusters,” Meyer said.


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