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Resort returns to the hot seat
Colorado levels a critical eye at ambitious expansion plans

Sidebar: Expansion geared toward financial solvency

A bird's eye view:  As part of its 20-year master expansion plan, Durango Mountain Resort is planning the construction of six villages that will contain more than 1,600 residential units.  In the midground is the future site of Boyce Lake Village, which will contain executive homesites./Photo by Ben Eng Durango Mountain Resort’s proposed expansion is returning to the limelight, and it looks like it will continue to stir up controversy. In spite of a victory at the polls in early August and the perception that a deal had been struck with one of the plan’s biggest adversaries, criticism of the resort’s proposal for 1,649 units looks to be forthcoming as the planning process enters its next stage.

“We will continue to scrutinize the details of the project,” says Jeff Berman, executive director of Colorado Wild. “That’s our role, and we’ll continue to fill it.”

Last Friday, the resort unveiled two of its village conceptual plans fresh on the heels of three recently released master improvement plans, detailing the expansion’s nuts and bolts. A public hearing on the expansion is set for Oct. 21.

A little recent history

On Aug. 13, the master plan overcame a major hurdle when voters approved a referendum allowing the development to go forward by a margin of 57 to 43 percent. The citizens’ referendum was on the ballot in the primary election to determine if the electorate approved of the development agreement between DMR and La Plata County.

Interestingly, Colorado Wild, one of the development’s biggest critics, entered into an agreement with DMR a few weeks prior to the vote. The agreement called for continuous air-quality monitoring, a $1,000 fee for new wood-burning fireplaces, mandatory water-conservation measures, creation of an Alternative Transportation Plan to reduce total traffic and the dedication of 1,351 acre-feet of surface water to protect trout in Hermosa Creek. Immediately, numerous members of the public cried foul, and suggestions that Colorado Wild had been bought out were aired.

In his defense, Berman says: “We didn’t just switch sides. We got an agreement that will give us some enforcement authority.”

Bernard Fouke, a Colorado Wild member who co-signed the referendum with Berman, says that the repercussions of a “no” vote on the referendum would have been worse than the existing master plan. “A no vote would have meant one of two things: The county would have reopened the process to another development, or the county would have used its old land-use codes, and the plan would have been piecemealed,” he says.

He adds that Colorado Wild never wanted to kill DMR’s ability to expand.

“Our stated intent from the beginning was to modify the existing development plan and move forward with the planning process,” he says.

Playing with the plan

All the players will start moving forward with the planning process next Monday at DMR during a public meeting on the master infrastructure plans. Nancy Lauro, senior La Plata County planner, notes that the development plan was approved by county commissioners and the voting public. This agreement between DMR and La Plata County set down standards considerably more stringent than what the county’s land-use regulations require.

“The development agreement set some fairly specific standards, and we want to guide the development in a way that the county sees fit,” she says.

Fouke concurs that the county subjected DMR to stringent standards, which the resort complied with.

“To DMR’s credit, I think they ultimately recognized that it needed to be a quality development and were open to lessening the impacts,” he says. “I think they are sincere in supporting significant land-use code modifications.”

However, a great deal about the expansion remains uncertain. Lauro says the development plan and the referendum established only two things: a maximum of 1,649 units in the development and the regulations by which the development will be judged.

“The maximums are locked, and the regulations are locked,” she says. “They could do better with mitigation or they could do fewer units.”

In Berman and Fouke’s minds, doing better will entail a reduction in numbers. “We have already reviewed several of the master and conceptual plans and have a few concerns,” says Berman. “There is increasing evidence that the development is too dense.”

Fouke agrees, saying that the impact of 1,649 units would be excessive.

“Some of the issues have to do with quantity,” he says. “Some have to do with proximity to wetlands. Some deal with view corridors. Clustering is really the major issue with us.”

When asked if criticism of the plan ran counter to Colorado Wild and DMR’s agreement, Berman replied that the agreement gives his group the ability to be critical. “We don’t plan to come in hard,” he says. “We plan to come in logically.”

As for Colorado Wild’s approach to the upcoming planning process, Berman adds: “We’re trying to keep this very large, second-home, real estate development honest. We’re not seeking to stop this. We just want to ensure that the environment and the people of southwest Colorado are not harmed.”






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