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Landowners Rush to Beat Tax Deadline on Conservation Easements

If Congress does not reauthorize the Pension Protection Act of 2006, most of the tax benefits of putting conservation easements on land will disappear on Dec. 31. The Casper Star Tribune reported this week that many of the groups that work with landowners to set up conservation easements in Wyoming said they're overwhelmed with deals pitched in an effort to beat that deadline. The Teton Regional Land Trust, which works with landowners in both Idaho and Wyoming, has more than three times the number of projects this year as it normally does, and another Wyoming land trust agent said the demand for conservation agreements has put appraiser in great demand, creating a bottleneck for those deals. But tax benefits aren't the only reason conservation easements are sought for property. In Utah, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Salt Lake County used $8.7 million of its $48-million voter-approved open space funds to secure the Rose Canyon Ranch, a 1,700-acre parcel of land that lies on the valley's west side. County officials said the newly acquired lands, combined with Yellow Fork Park and land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, will provide area residents nearly 4,000 acres of land for recreation. The protected acres also provide habitat for a herd of 750 elk, wild turkeys and mountain lions.

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Montana Development Offers Homebuyers A Slice of Ranch Life

High-end developments aren’t new to Montana – The Stock Farm in Hamilton in the Bitterroot Valley, the Yellowstone Club at Big Sky, Elk Highlands near Whitefish – all offer wealthy clients a personal slice of the Big Sky State. But Cascade County commissioners said The Ranches at Belt Creek is a first for their Montana county. The Great Falls Tribune reports today that what makes the proposed 810-acre subdivision near Belt unique in the history of that county is the developer’s focus on second-home seekers and wealthy retirees as potential homeowners. The subdivision, if approved, would offer log or stone homes, starting at $500,000 or more, on lots that range in size from five to 40 acres. The subdivision comes with a full slate of amenities, too, with a concierge service available to arrange activities such as hiking, horse riding, rafting, fishing, hunting, skiing, snowmobiling and golf.

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Despite National Decline, Housing Prices Up In Wyoming, Utah

A new federal report says Utah and Wyoming are defying the national trend of declining home prices. The Salt Lake Tribune reports today that, while housing-price appreciations hit the negative in markets such as Arizona and Nevada, both Utah and Wyoming reported double-digit increases for the first half of 2007. Five of Utah’s cities made the list of cities in the nation with the fastest growing house-price appreciation, with Provo-Orem, Salt Lake City, and Ogden-Clearfield ranked second, third and fourth; and Colorado’s Grand Junction ranked fifth. Wenatchee, Wash., was first in the nation. But not all the news about Wyoming’s home price increases is rosy. According to a Casper Star-Tribune article today, the U.S. Forest Service said the skyrocketing price of housing in Jackson has the federal agency considering moving the Supervisor's Office of the Bridger-Teton National Forest now located in Jackson to Alpine, where housing is more affordable for staffers.

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Vail Hopes to Capture Construction Revenue

Vail is booming – and the evidence is everywhere. The Denver Post reports today that there are eight huge construction cranes towering over the Colorado town, giving sky high evidence of the now-$2 billion makeover, sparked by Vail Resorts’ $250-million Arrabelle project. Perhaps that building boom is the impetus for the Town Council’s passage of a resolution to put a new tax before the voters of the mountain burg. The Vail Daily News reports that the 4 percent tax, which will go before the voters in November, will be imposed on any construction materials used on projects in the city, no matter where the companies buy the materials. Vail isn’t the first Colorado town to impose a construction use tax. Eagle and Gypsum have both approved such a tax, but efforts to impose similar taxes in Avon and Breckenridge failed at the ballot box.

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E-Commuters Make Western Resort Towns Their Home

Advances in technology have allowed many deskbound workers the opportunity to work from anywhere, and consultants, software designers and other “location-neutral” professionals are deciding that they prefer that anywhere be the areas where they used to vacation. The New York Times today takes a look at how “location neutral" professionals are changing the economies and politics of areas as diverse as Nantucket, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Teton County, Idaho, and Steamboat Springs, Colo. Wealthy retirees and second-home owners have already been credited -- or blamed -- for making substantial changes to many Western towns, but this new crop of virtual commuters are different from those émigrés in that many bring their families and are much more involved in the community. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the population of the nation’s 297 counties rated highest in natural amenities grew nearly 10 times as fast as the population of the 1,090 rural counties with below-average amenities. And Colorado’s Routt County, where Steamboat Springs is located, is one of the first counties to recognize this new class of newcomer. A 2005 survey found that one in ten year-round households reported income from a “location-neutral” business.

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Neighbors Blue About Montana Governor’s New Neighborhood

Gov. Brian Schweitzer's new home on Georgetown Lake must be a sight to behold. Gwen Florio's article in Monday's Great Falls Tribune paints an inviting picture of the 4,000-square-foot cedar and sandstone house that juts out into a picturesque bay on Montana's Georgetown Lake with the Pintler Mountains towering in the distance. Schweitzer paid $2 million just for the land, buying two lots in industrialist Dennis Washington's Badger Bay subdivision, where the Schweitzer's four-bedroom, six bath home is the first to be built. The governor says he's glad to be making his home among the blue-collar folk of the state--people who herald from Butte, Anaconda and Phillipsburg.

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Montana Mountain Town Slated For a Multimillion-Dollar Makeover

Red Lodge has about 2,500 year-round residents, but the mountain town on Montana's scenic Beartooth Highway is growing by leaps and bounds. The Billings Gazette has published a series of articles about growth in the town, detailing the millions of dollars of new building projects, including the addition of 600 new homes. Construction of a new critical-care hospital, and a new senior center on the hospital campus, along with a new high school is all slated to commence within the next year. Efforts are under way to raise the funds necessary to build a tournament-sized gym and a high-quality auditorium to give Red Lodge the opportunity to host sporting events and to give local musicians and students a venue for concerts and plays. The Red Lodge Nature Center has begun raising the $8 million it needs for its new facility, and the Carbon County Historical Society is also planning a multimillion-dollar renovation of the building it purchased a few years ago which now houses the Historical Society' Museum. All that construction means many more workers will be coming to town, and as in other Rocky Mountain West communities, those workers won't have many options when it comes to housing. Even with the addition of 600 homes, the price of those homes may be out of reach of many of the workers, with the median price of a home already at $235,000.

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A Prince’s Home in Aspen, for a Kingly Sum

What will $135 million buy you in the Aspen housing market? Plenty, but you'd better be a multibillionaire if you want a peek at this property, which is being billed as the most expensive single-family residence on the market in the U.S. The New York Times reports that the Hala Ranch, just minutes away from downtown Aspen and owned by one-time Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the U.S. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, includes 95 acres of land and a 56,000-square-foot home. That's larger than the White House. Joshua Saslove, the broker who is handling the sale of the ranch, said he's had about 1,000 calls on the property, and thus far only 11 have qualified to be worthy of a first-hand look. But as long as we're keeping a tally, is it really the most expensive home in the country, or even in the Rockies? As reported by Forbes.com in January, timber and real estate baron Tim Blixseth is building--and planning to sell--what Forbes declared "The WORLD's Most Expensive House." It's only 53,000 square feet, but it does sit on 160 mountaintop acres at the ultra-exclusive Yellowstone Club, and offers a private chairlift-like gondola to whisk the lucky homeowner to the top of the slope. Construction was expected to begin this June, and be completed within 15 months.

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Fires Ignite Debate on Urban Interface Development

The wildfire burning near South Lake Tahoe has destroyed more than 100 homes, and according to a Los Angeles Times article on Monday, most of those homes burned within the first few hours of the wildfire's start. Those homes were tucked away in the tinder-dry forests, and are indicative of what's gone awry with development in the Rocky Mountain West, according to a Christian Science Monitor article. The New York Times reports today that the federal government put states and local governments on notice this spring that more needs to be done to control development in the areas where public lands and private homes abut and that more firefighting costs must be borne by the states. Public lands are the Rocky Mountain West's equivalent of California's ocean shores--a wonderful amenity to have outside your front--or back--door. But just as crashing tides and wicked weather pose a risk to shore homes, those public lands, too, can be both a wonderful asset and a potential danger during wildfire season.

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Westerners Find Golf Course Homes Not All They’re Cracked Up to Be

Living on the golf course is the dream of many a duffer -- but high-tech drivers that allow golfers to hit the ball farther -- or slice it farther or hook it farther -- are creating some domestic disturbances in golf course communities from Arizona to Utah and in other parts of the nation. The New York Times reports today that 70 percent of new golf courses now being built contain housing, and with more golfers using high-tech drivers that allow them to hit the ball farther and farther, errant shots are increasingly finding their way into course-side homes and bouncing off patios. While good etiquette requires golfers whose shots go out of bounds pay for the windows and patio doors they break, residents said few golfers actually take responsibility for their wild shots. One resident who lives along a golf course in St. George, Utah, recounted his experience with a golfer whose drive had broke a window at his house: the golfer, who was playing in a church outing, gave him a phony name and number. Course designers and golf course owners are widening fairways, planting trees and putting up nets to help block shots gone bad, and new companies that produce extra heavy screens for doors and windows, are also aiding in the effort to protect windows and doors. Still, some residents said they'd caution friends who are contemplating buying a home on the golf course to just not do it. That sentiment may ease the discontent of residents of Eagle Mountain, who bought their homes on the promise that three golf courses would be developed in their Utah community.

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