A $16 million deal completed in January will protect Heaven’s Door Ranch as open space and use its water rights to serve an area east and north of Fort Collins.
Larimer County bought the 1,547-acre ranch at 9800 W. U.S. 34 and its existing buildings, including an 8,734-square-foot home with indoor and outdoor swimming pools, for $9 million. The property sale closed in November, says Justin Core, senior land agent for the county.
The water rights fetched nearly as much as the land.
John Feeney and John Simmons with C3 Real Estate Solutions represented the property owners who sold 100 shares of Colorado-Big Thompson water rights for $7 million to the North Weld County Water District in January.
Northern Water approved the sale and will manage the facility. The Colorado-Big Thompson Project, a joint venture between Northern Water and the Bureau of Reclamation, collects, stores, and delivers more than 200,000 acre-feet of supplemental water annually to over 1 million residents and 600,000 acres of farmland in Northeastern Colorado.
Most of the project’s water comes from snowmelt in the Upper Colorado River basin in Rocky Mountain National Park and Grand County. The water is collected in Lake Granby and Willow Creek Reservoir and stored in terminal reservoirs along the Front Range: Horsetooth Reservoir, Carter Lake, and Boulder Reservoir.
Jeff Stahla, Northern Water spokesman, said North Weld Water would use the water shares to serve its customers east and north of Fort Collins for municipal and agricultural use.
Stahla said the Heaven’s Door Ranch water sale is part of a continuing trend of converting water rights from agricultural to municipal use. In 1957, farmers owned 80 percent of the Colorado-Big Thompson water rights. Now those rights are split 25-75 between agricultural and municipal use.
The amount of water generated by 100 units would serve 200 homes annually.
Water rights are a contentious issue as Colorado, California, and five other states argue over how much water each state should get from the Colorado River as reservoir levels continue to decline.
The fight over water availability could slow Colorado’s growth.
For example, Thornton sued Larimer County in 2019 after the county denied the city’s permit for a portion of the 72-mile pipeline Thornton needs to move its Poudre River water shares. The city lost that lawsuit and lost when it appealed to the court of appeals. Thornton decided against taking the case to the Colorado Supreme Court in favor of working directly with Larimer County and residents in the area where the pipeline would go once the city chooses a route. Thornton argues it needs the water to continue building and serving new homes.
Arapahoe County leaders are considering requiring triple the water developers must bring to any new subdivision they build.
Meanwhile, Larimer County plans to protect the Heaven’s Door Ranch land and will not develop it.
Instead, the county will develop a management plan to determine recreational use for the property, Core says, and hasn’t made any decisions on how it will use the existing ranch structures.
The Leonard Lavin family of Illinois bought the property in 1995 and built the house in 1996. The family founded Alberto-Culver Co., manufacturer of Alberto V05 products, purchased by Unilever in 2010.
In the early 2000s, the property owners considered creating a $25 million music venue with a capacity similar to Red Rocks amphitheater, but neighbors opposed the plan.
The family listed Heaven’s Door Ranch for $18 million in August, asking $11 million for the property and $7 million for the water rights.