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The board of the Salida Natural Resource Center Development Corporation completed the sale of the U.S. Forest Service Building and 48.5 acres of land on the south side of U.S. 50., closing the deal with Bearcreek Partnership LLC Feb. 23. The $3.8 million sale, completed by Realtor Jeff Post of First Colorado Land Office, had been in the works for months.

The sale closes an important chapter in the Vandaveer property saga. The board of the NRCDC says it demonstrates a commitment to meet their promise to the community – to sell enough property to pay off the bank note on the property.

“We’re delighted that the sale allowed us to retire the loan with High Country Bank,” said NRCDC President Ron Mazzeo. “We paid off the approximately $3.9 million loan the same day that we closed this sale. To make up the difference between the sale price and the loan, remember we had a CD with the bank, held as security on the loan, that we cashed in.”

With that sale complete, the NRCDC retains ownership of more than 95 acres located between CR 104 and CR 107, all part of the original Vandaveer Ranch property, purchased years ago by the city of Salida for the water rights. Mazzeo said that, for the time being, the NRCDC board, which includes Mazzeo, Jim McConaghy, Dan Tibbitts and Peter Simonson, will hold remaining funds in an operating fund. That fund will cover costs that may still be pending, including tax liability.

“You know, we paid $54,000 in property tax to Chaffee County as part of this sale,” said Mazzeo. “We don’t know what other taxes we may still have, so we have to have a standing operating fund for any obligations we still may have.”

More than 18 months ago, NRCDC board members made their intent clear – to pay off the Vandaveer debt and transfer ownership of the remaining land back to the city for the benefit of the citizens of Salida. With the sale complete and the loan repaid, Mazzeo said returning the remaining land to the city will take a little more time while the board addresses a few more things.

“We set this mission to sell enough to pay off the debt and we accomplished that. It was a big loan with a balloon payment coming in a few years and that was our first priority,” said Mazzeo. “We still want to get the nature park set up, but we need access to it through Palmer Street.”

The nature park is planned for a small portion of the Vandaveer property in a floodplain on the north side of the South Arkansas River, where development is not an option. A park would require a conservation easement, and the NRCDC board met last year with Andrew Mackie of Central Colorado Conservancy regarding restoration of the wetlands along the river for a park area. But to do that, it has to have access to the parcel.

Asked about the purchaser’s plans for the property, Mazzeo said that such plans aren’t in the NRCDC’s “wheelhouse.”

“Anyone buying this property has to follow the zoning for the property. That falls in the city’s jurisdiction with zoning and city planning,” said Mazzeo. “It’s not our place to tell them what to do.”

Mazzeo stressed that the current city administration cooperated with the NRCDC so that the sale could close and that the NRCDC board appreciated that support.

“It’s such a positive step. I can tell you, as a board, it’s a wonderful feeling to know that we kept our promise to the people. We want to thank the citizens of Salida for their support and their patience with us, while we completed our stated mission.”

The NRCDC plans a joint work session with Salida City council on Monday, March 19,at 6 pm, to work through outstanding issues related to the property, including next steps related to the community nature park. It has waited on the city of Salida for more than a year to obtain access to the parcel because a property owner has blocked the Palmer street right-of-way.