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Old 04-06-2008, 08:32 PM   #1
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How our Airstream made us developers

When we were going to to buy our Safari, this nasty problem came up—how are we going to pay for it? We have been fortunate in life, but not that fortunate that I wanted to write a check. The immediate solution was to borrow money against investments and when we could get it arranged, put a home equity loan on our house—rates are down to 4.25% and it's deductible. I can earn more on investments than 4.25%, so I'm coming our ok on this. Not a bad deal. But not a long term solution.

We bought Lot 1 of a 2 lot subdivision in 2000. A couple of years ago, the owner of Lot 2 called me to tell me he was going to sell Lot 2 and not build on it. We bought it as a defensive purchase. Now that we owned 37 acres, I investigated conservation easements, but after contacting various land trusts, some of which wouldn't even answer my e-mails, I got no where. Because of pressure from the IRS, they rarely look at anything under 100 acres and as a result the people who get those big tax breaks on easements are either ranchers (good) or very rich people (bad). The 2nd is bad because poor and middle class people are basically being taxed to support those tax breaks. Though we are very conservation minded, this seems a bad program in some of its consequences.

So, we decided to sell Lot 2. First, however, we had to change the lot lines and other things. The two lots resemble big "L's" and we'd rather have simple rectangles. Secondly, the building site on the original plat is not defined properly. Thirdly, the covenants weren't very good and I need to write new ones. I also thought the driveway took out too many trees. This is all pretty simple to replat through the county and it doesn't hurt that I know the planning director. Because we own the entire subdivision, I voided the covenants. Then I checked with planning to see if all of this would work. The answer was "yes".

Today we went out to figure where the building envelope should be. It was about 50˚. We took a 100' tape measure and started working our way south from the road, putting red tape on trees until we were about 350' from the road and found some areas with fewer trees and possible locations for driveway and leach field. We had to make out way through fallen trees, sage, low branches and old irrigation ditches. We tried to locate the area in the middle of the lot from east to west. We wanted the house to have good views. It's not easy to pull 100' of tape through the trees and sagebrush. We thought we were walking straight south, but walked SW. We were 80' from the fence on the east at 100' from the road, but at 350' from the road, we were 240' from the fence. Next time I'm a developer, I'm bringing a compass.

We found a spot without too many mature trees—i.e., hundreds of years old instead of 50 or 100 years old—that didn't have water channels through it. When we get the occasional gully washer, all those ancient channels become creeks and sometimes rivers—you don't want your house there. By the time we did all this, it started to snow. Suddenly it wasn't 50˚. It only lasted 10 minutes, but you never know in Colorado what's next.

This developer stuff isn't so easy.

Next we get some helium filled balloons—a surveyor told me this trick—and tie them to the ground at various heights so we can see if we can see them from our house and from the road. We are located in the middle of a piñon/juniper/cedar forest and can't see the road or any other houses. We want to keep it that way and also try to make a new house invisible from the road. That way the area just looks like forest and undeveloped. That helps property values. And with the balloons we can establish height restrictions.

After we figure that out and put in a building envelope and driveway, we can have the surveyor come out and spend some of our money. Then submit it to the county and wait for a while, and then put it on the market. I've got write new covenants in the meantime including that it be site-built and blend with the forest. I'll see if we can sell it ourselves—we've done real estate deals that way several times. I knew this lawyer stuff would come in handy.

When it gets sold, we pay off the debt. There's a lot of land around here for sale and I don't know how fast they are going. It doesn't look like the ones without trees are going fast, but I hope by having one of the few lots with all forest, it's more desirable.

We know lots of realtors and developers and I wish they do something else like become doctors or nurses or school teachers, but most of them are good people. I wish nothing would change and we could all get conservation easements, but, alas, it's not to be. I've lived in dying or stagnant cities and they are not easy places to be, so I guess I have to accept change and development.

Besides, Airstream made us do it. Another consequence of aluminitis.

Gene
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Old 04-06-2008, 09:22 PM   #2
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What a great story Gene, and all too timely. Anything for our Airstreams!
And forget that developer thing. You're a writer!
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Old 04-06-2008, 10:06 PM   #3
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Rivet Interesting Story

Hi Gene,

After an MBA in ’94 and 13years as a research for a non-faculty unit of the College of Business of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, I decided to update my real estate knowledge because so many recent projects were about real estate development. Last fall I audited a Real Estate Finance class and this semester I am enrolled in Real Estate Law and Real Estate Valuation.

As a result of these courses, I understood every word you said. Last year I would have sort of glazed over.

I also agree with your choice to keep the area looking undeveloped from the road around your home. I would like something like that here near Little Rock.
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Old 04-08-2008, 10:17 PM   #4
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Balloons

Yesterday it snowed and we figured it would be too muddy, but today we decided to deal with it. A surveyor told me if you get some helium filled balloons, you can tell how high a house roof can be before we can see it from our house.

We bought this party balloon kit with a helium tank for about $20. They call things "kits" so they can charge more. I can charge the $20 against any capital gains we make on this lot. So we blew up 3 balloons for 15, 20, and 25 feet high, attached them to strings, brought the one T post we had and a slide hammer to set the T post, remembered to bring a compass this time, and set out for the lot. We actually found the site we had decided on and decided to make a building envelope. I set the T post at the highest spot and then we measured a 50 x 90 box, using cairns and red tape to establish the other corners. It didn't even start snowing.

We took the balloon on the 25' string and found all the strings from the three balloons had gotten tangled. That took a while because we had to hold the balloons so they wouldn't fly away and untangle 3 strings which had come to life and were having string sex. We finally liberated the 25' string and I tied it to the base of the T post and let it go. It rose about 5' and started to blow west. That very small breeze, a few mph, is apparently like a hurricane to a balloon. Then we realized 25' of string is a lead weight to a helium filled balloon. Maybe the string was made in China with lead flakes in it for our children. The surveyor didn't tell me this would happen.

Barb volunteered to go back to the house and get the helium tank (they are light—they're full of helium!) and more balloons. After a long time—it's only 500' or so to the house, but winding through the forest and trying to follow game trails makes it seem like a mile, Barb came back. We blew up another balloon, attached it to the 1st one, and up it went, trying to tangle in a tree. Why didn't we just tie all 3 original balloons together and not go to the house?—we're intellectually challenged.

It got up about 20' at an angle in the breeze and Barb made sure it wouldn't hit the tree. We decided 20' was enough. I went off to the house, missing it by 100 feet, but I found it. Got out the binoculars, went up to the 2nd floor and looked for the balloons. It's not easy to find something that you don't want to see and aren't sure just where it would be if you could see it. I couldn't find it. Back to the building site and found it right away, picked up our stuff and trudged back to the house.

Next we need to buy a bunch of T posts, put them in the other 3 corners and figure out where the driveway should go. But it's supposed to snow for the next couple of days. I didn't think this through when we bought the Safari. It went something like this—"we can change that lot we own to 10 acres and sell it; no sweat".

But there are a lot of things I wouldn't have done if I hadn't been been delusional and my life would have been so dull.

Gene
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Old 04-08-2008, 10:48 PM   #5
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Hi Gene,

Why am I reminded of reading Tom Sawyer?

Thanks for the update.
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Old 04-14-2008, 07:27 PM   #6
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Waiting for the surveyor. Hoping it doesn't snow again. Bought some U posts (cheaper than T posts) and some fluorescent yellow paint so I can use them as borders around the building site and where the line between lots is once it's been established.

Why do these posts almost always come in green when you want to see them?

Still waiting for the surveyor.

Then I can get some friends out who want wood and we can cut down the trees within the building site and some of the dead ones for firewood. The ipps beetle has been ravaging the piñon for years, especially during our intermittent droughts. Nobody has seen so many trees die—it's not just piñon—and its all over the west, from Canada to Mexico. They've even killed white pine near tree line, a tree that no one has ever seen hit by beetles—that seems to have been a result of much warmer temps at high altitude. I have lost trees that were hundreds of years old. The cedar and juniper are more resistent to the beetles, but even some of them get hit. The beetles interrupt the flow of sap when they burrow below the bark and lay their eggs in channels they create across the channels where the sap flows. They carry a blue fungus that finishes off the tree. In normal rain years, there's enough sap to envelope the beetles and kill them, but not during droughts. There's a specific beetle for every conifer, but the ipps beetle goes after all conifers. In some places all the trees or maybe 50% have died; we've been relatively lucky, but still have lost a lot.

Gene
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Old 04-15-2008, 12:58 PM   #7
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Guess you saw the article on mineral rights/extraction about western CO in a recent NYT?

Yeah, real estate development ain't easy. But it is interesting.

My wife and I are waiting for another year to go by -- a few months after the Presidential election -- and maybe, just maybe the market for all real estate will be more clear.

Very sorry to read more about the ips beetle and other problems affecting the mountains. My fathers family moved to CO in the 1850's, I'm the first born outside of it in a century. We spent a lot of time there as I was growing up. Some changes are not for the better. Here in South Texas, along the Gulf Coast one has to keep in mind that there were no mesquite trees and other heavy brush prior to the post Civil War cattle boom in reading history and imagining navigating on the ocean of grass; the problems of surveying, etc.

Best of luck to you.
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Old 04-15-2008, 01:35 PM   #8
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Rednax, I've been following the oil and gas boom in the Rockies for some time and have been very active in getting some real regulation because homeowners and ranchers have been hurt badly by companies who are bullies and destroy land, pollute the air and water with impunity. We got some significant changes through the Colorado legislature last year.

By pure dumb luck we bought property where no oil and gas (or anything but clay) have ever been thought to exist. We also own the mineral rights, though oil and gas companies can "force pool" someone who owns the mineral rights and still drill and pollute.

The land prices around here are very high compared to when we bought the adjoining lot and even more so from when we bought our house. I have no idea if people are getting those prices. We're taking it one step at a time.

Still waiting for the surveyor.

I think you spelled "ips" beetle correctly, I didn't.

Gene
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Old 04-15-2008, 02:30 PM   #9
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Gene, if you find it of further interest, you might read up on the Texas Railroad Commission, the history and reasons for founding. Daniel Yergins, Eyes on the Prize, only touches on it. Through interlibrary loan one can read some of the less than savory history of mineral extraction in this country, and Texas is a very good starting point as there were competing groups and philosophies. The details may be of use to you. (I like to point out that some peoples forebears were obviously a lot smarter than their progeny, but I am no diplomat). Possibly your representatives already have staff or academic contacts who are aware of titles you might peruse; grist for those breakfast house discussions and consensus building.

The Texas Observer is also interesting for 1950's forward.

Likely, you are already aware of the above. I see the main problem as being one of joint responsibility AND profit. We all need incentive, not a big brother telling us what is best for us (be he governmental or private).

The problem is a bit like the founding of Panama as a country. What we did there may be seen by some as inexcusable, but the fact remains that the Canal benefitted all parties. We can do these things better should be the point. I get tired of Californians and New Englander NIMBY's as we all share -- or should -- in the production and distribution of energy as we are also end-users.

I hope you haven't found yourself depressed too much over the 1872 Federal Mining Act. There have been several good books the past few years about coal mining in the Appalachians that are worth reading, and possibly useful to your ruminations.

Sorry for preaching to the choir, I am looking forward to seeing better solutions reported in the corporate media (NYT, etc). Abraham Lincoln was a corporate lawyer, yet his later writings are often ignored by those who would change our history. His insights into concentrations of power still ring.

Is that clay montmorillonite (sp?); that is, are you on the Morrison formation near Montrose? That clay type is interesting reading.

Again, best of luck.
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Old 04-15-2008, 03:37 PM   #10
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Oh, to have the time to do the research you suggest. I have trouble getting through the NYT and other publications I get. I did read all the law review articles I could find on split estates (mineral and surface) several years back.

I lived in NE Pa years ago and saw the destruction caused by coal mining though a lot of the 19th and 20th centuries. Now new natural gas wells are coming to Pa, western NY and elsewhere (story in NYT last week on that). I'm very involved with an organization that works on these issues in western Colorado, so we're working on a middle ground between extremes. For several years I drafted proposed legislation in the area and some of what I wrote actually showed up in legislation, so I felt my work had not gone for naught. The industry wants zero regulation and pretty much has had that for years, but things are changing. I have noticed that allergy problems are increasing around here and wonder if it's from ozone and particulates from oil and gas development to the north and northwest of here—100 miles is not far for effects to be felt. There have been many effects on health in the immediate area of the drilling.

Gene
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Old 05-01-2008, 12:24 PM   #11
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A "threatened" cactus

The surveyor was here at the beginning of the week and staked out a new properly line and corrected some errors his predecessor made. GPS has really changed surveying—more accurate and he doesn't need an assistant.

When he came back to the house he told me he saw a "unita basin hookless" cactus. It's listed as "threatened" by the feds. So, I looked it up and the information is conflicted, but it appears to be quite rare unlike it's cousin the unita basin hooked cactus. The picture looked familiar and I think I've seen it elsewhere.

We've wanted to place a conservation easement on this property, but have been told 37 acres is too small—unless you have something special. I called a land trust and they are coming out to look for the cactus next week. I went to where the surveyor told me it was two days ago and couldn't find it. I'll go out looking again when our latest snowfall melts.

I think we can make more money selling 10 acres, but we'd rather preserve the land and get the nice tax breaks for a conservation easement. Hopefully we have this rare plant and not the more common hooked one. I hope the surveyor could tell the difference—I'm told experts sometimes can't tell. I guess I'm not a real developer or I'd be cursing the feds.

Gene
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Old 05-01-2008, 02:26 PM   #12
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Mr Toads wild ride

Gene,
Thanks for taking us all along for the ride!

A great read. Karma coming at ya

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Old 05-01-2008, 05:24 PM   #13
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Yeah, No kidding! This is a great read, y'all...

So what's next?
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Old 05-01-2008, 08:39 PM   #14
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Fear Mr. Toad

"Mr Toads wild ride"

If Mr. Toad is out there, I'm not going back. He's such a bad dude, he'd eat all the rare cactus just for fun and the spines wouldn't bother him at all.

If you're not familiar with Mr. Toad, check out Zippy the Pinhead.

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