Resort prepares to break ground
DMR's expansion scheduled to begin Aug. 5th

The Needles cap the view from Durango Mountain Resort’s base area Bear townhomes is slated to begin in coming weeks to the right of the lake./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

After three years as a controversial concept, Durango Mountain Resort’s proposed expansion is set to break ground in coming weeks. On Aug. 5, resort officials hope to begin construction on the first phase of more than 1,500 new homes, thus starting a dramatic change to the resort’s existing landscape.

According to the company line, DMR needs to expand to stay competitive in the current ski industry climate. To this end, the resort has unveiled a 20-year master plan that envisions a mix of townhomes, single-family homesites, and hotel and shop space. In total, 1,649 units are planned as well as 410,000 square feet of new commercial space. The ambitious proposal includes six separate villages on 612 acres in the vicinity of the resort.

Not surprisingly, the plan to improve the resort has generated its share of controversy during its last three years in the planning pipeline. A local split in opinion on the plan culminated in a vote last August, and voters approved a referendum allowing the development to go forward by a margin of 57 to 43 percent. Since that time, the expansion has been immersed in a technical planning process. DMR is hoping to be sufficiently through the process to begin work in early August.

“ We have two projects starting this summer,” said Gary Derck, DMR’s chief executive officer. “We’re scheduled to start on the road improvements August 5.”

Derck added: “We’re glad to be getting in the ground... . The entitlement process has been expensive over the last three years. It’ll be nice to sell some real estate and recover some of that money.”

The resort will begin with the first phase of Engineer Village, a residential and executive homesite community planned for east side of Highway 550 across from the resort’s current overflow parking. Thirty-seven large lots are planned for construction this summer, and prices will start at $149,000. Twenty-five of the lots have already been reserved, largely by locals, according to Derck.

“ The initial response, particularly from the locals, has been good,” he said.

The resort also plans to break ground on Black Bear, a townhome project next to Engineer Village and immediately across from the resort’s main entrance. Derck said there is hope that eight of the 16 townhomes can be completed this summer. Their prices will start at $350,000, and five of the units already have been spoken for.

In spite of this strong early response, Derck said, it’s still too soon to tell what the demand will be. “With these two projects, we’re putting our little toe in the water and testing it,” he said.

Though work is scheduled for early August, the resort has yet to be released from the county planning process. Final plat approval still remains for Engineer Village, and Black Bear must gain preliminary and final plat approval. However, La Plata County Planning Director Nancy Lauro said that these are largely formalities.

“ We’re getting close on a couple projects,” she said.

As for any unexpected, last-minute controversy, Lauro said, “We’ve already talked through these ideas and issues.”

Colorado Wild, one of the development’s biggest critics, shocked the Durango area when it entered into an agreement with DMR just weeks prior to last August’s vote. While many viewed the move as a sell-out, Jeff Berman, Colorado Wild executive director, said that the agreement improved the expansion.

“ I don’t think people recognize the concessions we got, and we were chastised,” Berman said. “But the concessions are significant.”

The agreement calls 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 traffic and the dedication of 1,351 acre-feet of surface water to protect trout in Hermosa Creek.

Berman said his group has been working diligently to ensure that these concessions actually happen. “We have made substantial progress on several of the master infrastructure plans in the last six months,” he said. “We have also worked to ensure that concessions made last summer have been put into place.”

Citing a concrete result, Berman said that DMR is working to donate its Hermosa Creek water rights to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, thus ensuring in-stream flows in the creek.

“ DMR at this time must donate their water rights in the East Fork of Hermosa Creek,” Berman said. “That’s a really positive outcome.”

Colorado Wild also will continue to keep its eye on the master plan as it evolves.
“ This is the grunt work that in the end makes a difference,” Berman said.

Derck commented that the resort appreciates this grunt work, and he acknowledged that Colorado Wild has improved the project.

“ Jeff and his crew have been very helpful in helping us build a sustainable community,” he said.

Derck added that for DMR, the work has only begun. “Our job is to every year improve the quality of our resort,” he said. “The real estate is part of that. It creates revenue and allows us to reinvest in the resort.”







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