| An aerial view shows the plans for dense
development of River Trails Ranch
along the Animas River/Courtesy City of Durango
A reborn Friends of the Animas
Valley is coming out strongly in an effort to defeat plans to
develop River Trails Ranch immediately north of Durango. The
group reconvened last week and formalized its first goal –
raising public awareness of the ambitious development plan.
Two years ago, the Friends of the Animas Valley formed to counter
Bob Wolff and John Wessman’s plans to develop the Kroeger
Ranch. The group followed the plan through the La Plata County
planning process and eventually conceded to the county’s
approval of 67 units for the 245-acre property.
“We felt like if we didn’t concede something we’d
come off like a bunch of no-growth wackos,” said Harry
Boyd, one of the group’s founding members.
|A parkway street surrounded by multi-family
units is one of the plan’s many New Urbanism features.
Durango Planning Commission will host its first discussion
of River Trails Ranch this Thursday, Feb. 20./Drawings courtesy
city of Durango.
However, last week, the Friends of the Animas Valley was recharged
when announcements were made that Wolff and Wessman would be
trying to get approval for 800 units on the property and inclusion
within Durango city limits.
“This has happened awfully quickly,” Boyd said.
“Even though we’ve been fighting them for several
years, this latest submission happened overnight.”
As a result, Boyd said: “We’re all fired up again.
We’re going to hit hard. We don’t have any time.”
On Feb. 12, 20 people gathered in the La Plata County Extension
Building with one purpose in mind: defeating current plans for
development on River Trails Ranch. Foremost, the group decided
to reinvigorate its past efforts. Pam Nelson, another leading
figure with the Friends of the Animas Valley, spoke to the scope
of opposition. “On our last set of petitions, we had 1,200
names,” she said. “I think people feel like this
is just a handful of people out in the county, but there’s
widespread support all over the county and in the city.”
While the gathered group included primarily Animas Valley residents,
there also were people who live inside city limits, up Florida
Road and on Junction Creek Road. The list of reasons to oppose
River Trails Ranch was equally diverse and included lack of
affordable housing; construction in the floodplain; increased
traffic on County Road 250 (East Animas Road), 32nd Street,
Florida Road and East Third Avenue; and decreases in wildlife
habitat and quality of life.
“Here we are getting ready to sacrifice a jewel of our
community, and it’s going to happen in a matter of weeks,”
Speaking to the value of the Kroeger Ranch, Robert McCann added:
“This area really is our Central Park. Most of our tourism
runs through the valley, up toward Silverton and Purgatory.”
Nelson commented that with Durango’s commercial business
on the south side of the city, the impacts of a giant development
on the city’s north side will be wide-reaching. “It’s
a given that they’re going to ruin people’s quality
of life out here,” she said. “But I don’t
know if a lot of people on 32nd Street, Florida Road and East
Third Avenue realize that those 1,600 cars a day are going to
be coming down their roads.”
Boyd made the argument that other current development proposals
and growth within Durango will satisfy the city’s growth
needs for up to 10 years. “According to the city’s
numbers, they will have enough housing for five to 10 years
without this,” he said. “I don’t understand
what the rush is.”
The opinion that the plan is being forced through the process
was relatively widespread. “They’re trying to rush
it in,” said Nelson. “It’s very suspect.”
Boyd noted that during revisions to the city’s Comprehensive
Plan, he believed that the public came out strongly against
development on the Kroeger Ranch. He questioned why the final
revision called for 600 to 800 units on the space. “During
the meetings, the public was squarely against development of
the Kroeger Ranch,” he said. “What happened behind
those closed doors?”
The group agreed that the timing of the application is particularly
unsettling as the Animas Valley works to recover from last summer’s
wildfires and flooding and braces for a possible repeat. That,
combined with economic hardship and the prospect of war in Iraq,
has made for a “numb” public.
“I think the valley’s a wounded place right now,”
Boyd said. “I think the population as a whole is pretty
stressed out with what happened last year and what may happen
this spring and this summer.”
A petition calling for the Durango Planning Commission and
City Council to deny annexation of the proposed River Trails
Ranch is being circulated at 32 businesses in Durango. While
the petition has no legal force, it is an effort to consolidate
support and make a strong statement. The Friends of the Animas
Valley will meet again Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. in the Animas Room
at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. Interested residents are
invited to attend.
Boyd said in closing that the group would like to see the city
take a step back from River Trails Ranch and study the broader
impacts. “Instead of slam dunking this thing through the
planning process, we’d like to see a moratorium on further
annexation of the Animas Valley for two years,” he said.