River Trails returning to the hot seat

River Trails Ranch, the controversial development plan for the vacant ranchland immediately north of Durango, will return to the limelight this week. On Tuesday, Sept. 2, the Durango City Council will host its first meeting on annexing the land into city limits, thus paving the way for development.

Early this year, the development team of Bob Wolff and John Wessman forwarded a plan for 800 homes on the 245 acres formerly known as the Kroeger Ranch. Seizing on the New Urbanism approach, the plan calls for a variety of housing types. The development plan also contains space for businesses, schools, parks and open space in the Animas River floodplain. Development of the Kroeger Ranch always has been controversial, and currently a group called Friends of the Animas Valley is challenging the development. Wolff and Wessman are seeking city approval to bring the ranch within city limits, a necessity driven by utility service.

To this end, the council will host three meetings on the annexation. On Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m., Wolff and Wessman and the Friends of the Animas Valley will make presentations before council.

"They're giving us an equal amount of time, and we're going to present conflicts ranging from the traffic nightmare that will be produced by this to the absence of ethics in all of this," said Harry Boyd, of Friends of the Animas Valley.

Boyd said his group also is concerned that River Trails Ranch will set precedent for how major developments are processed by the city. "We're really interested in how growth is processed in the community," he said. "We're going to focus on the situation where public opinion does not become public process."

City Planner Greg Hoch stressed that the city is not looking for public comment at this first meeting. "For a lot of people to show up as a show of force at that first meeting doesn't make a lot of sense," he said.

On Sept. 9 a second meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. devoted to public comment. A final meeting has been set for Sept. 16 at 7:30 p.m. At that time, the council will hear from staff and possibly make a decision on River Trails Ranch.

"The council would like to wrap it up and make a decision on the 16th, but they may not," Hoch said. "It remains to be seen."

DMR shifts focus to main mountain

As Durango Mountain Resort breaks ground on its ambitious real estate expansion, it also is kicking off another review process. A series of improvements to the resort's main mountain, including lift replacements and upgrades, as well as increases in uphill carrying capacity and snowmaking are currently being considered by the Forest Service.

DMR has proposed to update its master plan, the document that guides the resort's special-use permit to operate on public land. Matt Skinner, DMR communications director, said that the current master plan is woefully out of date.

"We've been operating under a master plan that was set in 1979," he said. "This process will be basically a renewal of that master plan with a vision of the future."

The Forest Service is in the process of working up a draft environmental impact statement on the proposals. One of the most significant requests is DMR's call to up its "comfortable carrying capacity" from 6,850 guests per day to 9,600.

Lift improvement and replacement over the next several years will be another big ticket item. During a first phase, DMR would like to improve the beginner experience by replacing Chair No. 4. Eventually, the resort envisions a high-speed detachable quad in place of Chair 8 and a lift from the Gelande parking lot, which will be transformed into a satellite base area, to the top of the mountain.

There are no expansions proposed for the existing permit, but DMR would like to develop 149 acres of advanced glade skiing west of Chair 8 and is looking for a new site for the Nordic Center. A 40 percent increase in snowmaking capacity also will be considered by the Forest Service.

The environmental study process is ongoing. "We don't expect a draft of this until the middle of next spring," Skinner said.

Task Force busts growing operation

La Plata County's largest and most sophisticated known marijuana growing operation was busted Saturday, Aug. 23. According to the La Plata County Sheriff's Office, a "Crime Stoppers" tip alerted law enforcement to a marijuana production facility southeast of Ignacio on County Road 321.

Members of the Southwest Drug Task Force conducted surveillance of the property last Friday and enforced a search warrant at 6 a.m. the following morning. Task Force members entered five underground rooms in a 40-by-60-foot structure. There they found at least 700 plants, some as tall as 4 feet; about six pounds of marijuana; more than $44,000; and 53 South African Krugerrand gold coins valued at about $20,000.

At least two rental trucks were called to the scene to hold the growing equipment, which included fertilizer, water tanks, lights, ventilation systems and an extensiveelectrical system that appeared to have been illegally siphoning power from buriedpower lines.It appeared the operation may have been under way for a few years.

A man and a woman who lived on the 82-acre property were arrested and held without bail in La Plata County Jail. They were identified as Steven Weinreich, 59, and Nellie Gober, 65.

On Sunday, Aug. 24, investigators also searched a property in the 12000 block of Colorado Highway 172. There they seized 81 plants and arrested Steven Weinreich's son, Ian Weinreich, 23, who was booked into county jail on chargesof cultivation of marijuana with intent to distribute.

East Animas Road work underway

Motorists and cyclists can expect significant delays in coming weeks, as La Plata County works to widen a section of County Road 250 (East Animas Road), approximately 1 mile north of Trimble Lane. In addition to the construction of a 310-foot retaining wall, other improvements are being made including reconstruction of 650 feet of road, and installation of wider shoulders, guardrails and drainage.This work will be followed by the placement of an asphalt overlay from Trimble Lane north to County Road 253. The paving is expected to be completed by the end of September.

Regular working hours will be from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. The work is being conducted under local traffic control with one lane of traffic maintained during working hours. The speed limit will be reduced to 25 miles per hour in the vicinity of the work for the duration of the project.Delays averaging 20 minutes with an occasional delay of up to 30 minutes should be anticipated. Motorists and cyclists are urged to seek alternate routes.

- compiled by Will Sands





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