Opposition swells against River Trails
Friends of the Animas Valley reconvene to fight 800-unit development

Sidebar: A look inside River Trails Ranch

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. The
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,” said Boyd.

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.








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