Sustainable Settings to sell Thompson Creek Ranch
244-acre property hits market at $24 million with weekly price increases
Two decades ago, Rose and Brook LeVan took to the 244 acres of Thompson Creek Ranch in Carbondale with hopes of restoring it. Through experimental agriculture, the co-founders of the Sustainable Settings farm nonprofit wanted “to see if we could heal a piece of land” previously worn down by more conventional approaches, Brook LeVan said.
Sustainable Settings, the nonprofit they co-founded, purchased the land in 2003 for $2 million and got to work. A $2.1 million donation from father-and-son philanthropists Peter and Adam Lewis supported the upstart costs, as did more than $250,000 pulled together by the nonprofit.
Now, according to Brook LeVan, the land is healed, and it’s time to prove again that their methods work somewhere else. Sustainable Settings is ready for its next experiment, which begins with the sale of Thompson Creek Ranch at a starting price of $24.25 million in a for-sale-by-owner offering.
The price will increase every week that the property does not sell; Brook LeVan said that he envisions “ten threes” in the sales price: $33,333,333.33.
“That’s what I think it’s worth,” LeVan said.
LeVan said he would like to set “roughly half” of the sales price aside as an endowment that would support ongoing work from Sustainable Settings “for the perpetuity of our research.” With the remainder, he could use several million to purchase a new plot of land to heal and use between $4 million and $6 million to build infrastructure on that land.
At the end of 2019, Sustainable Settings valued its land, building and equipment assets at more than $2.8 million, according to the most recent tax forms available in ProPublica’s nonprofit database. In 2003, Sustainable Settings valued those assets at around $2 million. (The 2019 asset numbers are based on the 2003 value of the land, LeVan said.)
The sale of the property would include all 244.5 acres of land as well as a two-bedroom ranch house built in 1893, a bath house built in 2017, an outdoor kitchen, barns, a guest house, a dairy, a ranch store and office, ranch shop, root cellar, three greenhouses, an electrical corridor and a solar electric system tied to the grid. The ranch has water rights that date back to the 1800s.
The land is protected by a conservation easement that restricts development to “agricultural and educational purposes,” according to an undated interim Thompson Creek Management Plan.
When first asked about the sale price that is now 12 times greater than the 2003 purchase, LeVan talked about the current real estate market and the rising cost of infrastructure investments. Prompted further, he said that he sees much of the value in the soil that has healed and in the vitality of the land.
“It’s not your classic buy, subdivide and develop, so the value proposition is really about the preservation of the land and building peak fertility for health and wellness, right?” LeVan said. “And so we’ve done that work. … The value proposition is in deep in the soil.”
Sustainable Settings practices biodynamic farming, which combines physical practices like the use of natural fertilizers with what LeVan calls more “ethereal” practices, like combining and dispersing those fertilizers “at different cosmic rhythms,” he said.
Sustainable Settings would relocate when the ranch sells, though that next destination has not been determined yet. The sales brochure notes that the operators of Sustainable Settings “hope to stay in the area,” but LeVan would not specify how much of the region that encompasses.
After past tensions over county zoning rules, “We’ll be very careful to pick a lightly regulated county” the next time around, LeVan said. The hope is to find a spot primed for more experimentation where Sustainable Settings can dig deeper into an inquiry about humans and their relationship with the earth, LeVan said: “What are we capable of?”
The five-person board of Sustainable Settings — which includes Brook and Rose LeVan, Peter Hawkins, Ross Jacobs and Mike Stranahan — voted to put the property on the market about six months ago, Brook LeVan said. LeVan said he also mulled selling the land starting in 2007.
The board voted to sell in the spring 2008, according to a Glenwood Springs Post Independent article from March 6 of that year. At the time, LeVan cited challenges with Pitkin County zoning regulations and the cost of operating the county as reasons to relocate.
The market and economy shifted during that time, and the sale never manifested, LeVan said.
With the sale this time around, the LeVans hope to find buyers who will continue the stewardship of the land. Brook LeVan said some interested buyers have asked if the Sustainable Settings team might stick around for a year to consult and teach their approach.
“That’s our hope is that it’s passed on to somebody who will continue the good work, right?” LeVan said. “That’s part of the value proposition.”
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