All of Colorado could lose with change in land-use rules

A lobbyist for the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association was speculating a bit a week ago when he told some 300 ranchers gathered in Grand Junction that one of the fundamental laws governing their ability to split and sell their land may face assault at the ballot box next year.

But lobbyist Danny Williams is hardly uninformed when it comes to such issues. As an Eagle County commissioner and later a state lawmaker representing mountain areas, he dealt with disputes related to the law that allows property owners to split their land into parcels of 35 acres or more without going through local subdivision rules.

As a lobbyist for agricultural interests for many years, he has stayed abreast of these kinds of critical land-use issues.

So, we expect he knows what he is talking about when he says there is an effort being put together to place a measure on the 2010 ballot that would eliminate the 35-acre exemption.

Such a measure would not only hurt ranchers and farmers. It could have consequences far different than the proponents presumably seek — to preserve agricultural lands.

Ranchers and farmers often use the 35-acre exemption to sell a small piece of their property — or, equally important, to borrow against it — to raise cash for their operations. Without that potential, it could be more difficult for some to continue in business.

Furthermore, when conservation easements are put together to protect large parcels of agricultural land, the ability to carve out a 35-acre parcel for family members or to sell is often a key to making the arrangement work.

Finally, ranchers and farmers operating near growing communities, who find they can no longer raise funds by selling one or more 35-acre parcels, may determine it is better to sell their entire property to developers who plan subdivision with lots much smaller than 35 acres.

Ranchers, farmers and all those who treasure Colorado’s agricultural lands have good reason to worry about the sort of ballot measure that Williams predicted.


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