The pending Tamarron or Hermosa Park land exchange is a financial boondoggle of epic proportions for the public. You don't have to be a real estate investment pro to grasp that trading 125 residential lots next to the county's ritziest development for a handful of remote 35-acre parcels is a financial swindle of the first order. Tamarron's Glacier Club hopes to back up its Brinks armored car to the public trough, and load up big time at the public's expense.
Let's do the math. Tamarron's land exchange proposes to trade two remote 160-acre parcels for 265 acres of national forest land adjacent to Tamarron Resort's Glacier Club, immediately south of Havilland Lake and Chris Park Campground. Land exchanges are allegedly evaluated on the basis of reasonably foreseeable highest and best development prospects of the involved land parcels. According to the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the land exchange, Tamarron intends to construct 125 residential units amid another nine-hole golf course. Some of these are described as multifamily units, but many dozens are single-family residential lots.
A little online research reveals that vacant lots at Glacier Club start at $250,000, and run up to $800,000 or more for prime clifftop lots, dozens of which will be obtained via this land exchange. So the retail value of the 125 lots Glacier Club hopes to obtain is easily $30 million or more.
What's the retail value of the parcels Glacier Club plans to trade? Each of the two 160-acre parcels could be divided into four 35-acre lots. Perusing the real estate ads indicates that 35-acre parcels in high-end subdivisions across the county like Shenandoah, Trappers Crossing or the new Cliffs of Durango are in the range of $500,000 or less. So the two parcels (plus an inaccessible mining claim in the Weminuche Wilderness) might support eight developable rural large lots, with a retail value of $4 million or so.
Gee whiz. Trading $30 million of our national forest for $4 million worth of private real estate. What a deal for the public. If you're a real estate development outfit like Glacier Club, why wouldn't you jump on a bargain sale to get prime real estate for 10 cents on the dollar?
Glacier Club is hoping to trade profitably on a gaping loophole in the Forest Service's appraisal process. The agency's Alice in Wonderland approach to land appraisals will likely presume the 265 acres of national forest at Chris Park has limited development potential with poor access. Of course, this utterly ignores the real world fact that a developer is salivating to get title to the property, and has already laid out over one hundred homesites along a golf course.
The public rightly enthusiastically supports Forest Service acquisition of Hermosa Park and Mitchell Lakes. But it makes no sense to shell out $30 million or more worth of federal property to buy lands worth a tiny fraction of that amount. Common sense needs to rule the day, not arcane federal appraisal regulations.
Mark Pearson was formerly director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.