Preserving the land heritage of Cherry Hills Village
By Jan Wondra
There is a concerted effort underway to protect the rural nature of the verdant, rolling landscape of Cherry Hills Village. While many cities rely upon parks, trails and recreation committees to direct landscape preservation, Cherry Hills Village has taken a different approach. The recent formation of the Quincy Farm Visioning Committee is the latest step protecting the area’s rural character. It will work in concert with the existing Cherry Hills Land Preserve and the Parks, Trails and Recreation Committee. Its goal: a vision for managing the gift of land by Cat Anderson, called Quincy Farm.
One truth underlies the city’s effort to preserve its rural character. In High on Country, a narrative Village history written by Cherry Hills Village City Councilwoman Klasina VanderWerf, she writes, “There must exist a relationship between the people who live there and the land they live on.”
Although originally incorporated in 1945, when the six-mile square area banded together to prevent the development of a regional airport on its southern border, Cherry Hills Village’s beginnings go much further back. From 1880s pioneer farmers, when the Perrymans were early landowners, through the teenage years of the century, when A.C. Foster built the Buell Mansion and moved his family there to escape the Spanish flu epidemic, people have wanted to live in the Village. It is this fact that began to endanger its rural character.
Many of the farms were sold to developers during the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, creating gracious “country home” developments with names like Country Homes, Devenshire, Cherry Ridge and Cherryvale. The history of the Village has been linked to its lifeblood; the water flowing through the High Line Canal which irrigated the farms. This ribbon of green, a timeless park crossing the entire metro Denver, takes its longest meander in the metro area through Cherry Hills Village.
As time continued, 20-acre lots got divided to 10 acres, then divided again, and sometimes again, to the city’s current minimum lot size of 2.5 acres. This is still enormous by most other city standards, but it began to change the rustic feel of the Village.
“By the time the Village began to recognize the need to preserve open space, large lots were so in-demand that it raised their value,” said VanderWerf. “Often they are owned by people of modest means, whose primary worth is tied up in their home. They cannot afford not to sell, but their hearts want to keep the open lands together.”
This is where the Cherry Hills Land Preserve, created in 2005, entered the picture.
VanderWerf, who helped found the Cherry Hills Land Preserve, said, “We modeled our structure after the work of a land preserve in Lincoln, Maine. They created a land trust separate from city operations, a foundation that could help raise both funds and awareness of the need to protect the land. We knew we needed to have enough critical mass to focus on preservation. We couldn’t just name a property because then cost would go out of sight and we couldn’t fund the purchase. Our focus is fundraising and advocacy for land preservation; shining a light on protection of remaining rural spaces, encouraging landowners to consider sale to the Land Preserve.”
Enter the idea of conservation easements, used successfully in the Maine model, which can protect rural land from
being further subdivided.
“Instead of targeting individual properties, we advocate for preservation bubbles,” said VanderWerf. “Property owners can sell their land to the Cherry Hills Land Preserve at a fair market value, but they can retain their right to live on the property until their death. It’s a wonderful way to leave a rural legacy and at the same time provide for the family.”
Conservation easements can cross properties, allowing adjoining property owners to work together to protect line-of-sight views, adjoining properties, or opposite sides of the High Line Canal. Easements are defined by IRS guidelines and can be of several kinds: historic, wildlife habitat, recreation, educational or simply open space.
“A property can have more than one conservation easement designation,” said Cheryl Cufre, Colorado Open Lands director of Land Stewardship, at a recent Cherry Hills Village PTRC meeting. “Quincy Farm has four easements across the property; historic, recreational, educational and wildlife habitat.”
The Land Preserve will be conducting a spring fundraising event to replenish purchasing funds. Its successful fall barn event is becoming an annual tradition.
VanderWerf is careful to point out the Land Preserve’s ethics and said, “We don’t expect people to just give us the land. We establish a fair market value, sometimes structured with property owner’s rights to remain on the land while alive.”