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Over 1,100 acres for sale near Rico could bring new development, if it’s in locals’ best interest

Lucas Brady Woods
About 1,100 acres along the upper Dolores River is for sale right next to Rico. The land is pictured here in May.

More than 1,100 hundred acres of undeveloped mountainside adjacent to Rico are for sale, and talk of a large land sale right on the town’s doorstep has raised questions about an influx of development.

Town manager Chauncey McCarthy says there are no specific plans for the land at this point, but that the town will be involved in the sale and whatever is eventually built on the site.

“There will be heavy community input on how the project moves forward,” McCarthy says. “The biggest thing is, does the town want to see growth in that nature?”

There are also some major challenges to developing the land. Much of it is steep and mountainous, with elevations around 9,000 feet.

“There's limited access up there,” says McCarthy. “There's no infrastructure.”

Lucas Brady Woods
Rico Town Hall in May 2022. Town manager Chauncey McCarthy says developing the land will be a major challenge, but isn't necessarily bad for the town.

He’s also unsure if the town will be able to supply enough water to the site if it’s developed.

But he also says development isn’t inherently a bad thing. Market rate or luxury housing can definitely be part of it, but so can other types of development that benefit a community, like affordable housing or public spaces.

Potential conservation is also a significant consideration, and a few local organizations are already interested in working with the town and future landowners. Patrick Gardner runs the Trust for Public Land and says there are a lot of possibilities for conservation on land like this

“It could be acquired by the town for open space,” says Gardner. “Some could be set aside for development, ideally for affordable housing. Some could have conservation easements on there.”

But a listing from boutique real estate firm Telluride Properties says the land is a "one-of-a-kind development opportunity." The offering price is $10 million. And there’s interest from potential buyers, some from as far away as China, Japan and the United Kingdom, a few of which have already toured the land.

Any developers will have to work with the interests of the town, but according to Telluride Properties real estate agent Eric Saunders, development could bring major improvements.

“Development gets a bad wrap a lot of times,” says Saunders. “But if they do decide to develop in Rico, you're gonna see them probably provide a lot of public benefit in the form of water, sewer, some other public benefit - trail improvements, things like that.”

At the end of the day though, the land sale is in its early stages, and all parties say they are committed to collaborating with the town and the local community.

Developers have come to Rico before

This isn’t the first time there’s been the possibility of real estate development around Rico, and so far, projects have never really taken off.

Skip Zeller has lived in Rico for 40 years, and he’s seen the town go through a lot.

“Rico, when I got here - and I use these terms very loosely - it consisted of a bunch of hippies and a bunch of retired miners,” says Zeller.

Lucas Brady Woods
Skip Zeller leans against his truck just outside of Rico in May. He's lived in the town for 40 years.

Zeller is also an organizer with the Rico Land Collaborative, a group that advocates for citizen-led approaches to new development in the town.

To this day, Rico has largely avoided the influx of real estate development that many mountain towns, like nearby Telluride, have already experienced. It’s still a very small community. Less than 200 people live there year-round and it doesn’t even have a sewer system.

“Rico is one of the few ex-mining towns that still maintain some sort of a reasonable amount of community,” says Zeller. “And we'd like to keep it that way.”

But Zeller says just because there’s talk of development, that doesn’t mean there’s anything to worry about.

“Development is inevitable,” he says. “But we’re all hoping that organizations who have gotten involved also want to work with this town and do what's best for the town.”

For now, residents, town management, conservationists and realtors are on the same page. But if development does happen on the land one day, it would undoubtedly be a big change for the landscape around Rico.

Copyright 2022 KSJD

Lucas is the News Director for KSJD Community Radio. His work focuses on serving the public of the Four Corners with responsible, factual reporting.