Friends of Grandview comes together
New Group levels hard eye at development plan

Wally White, spokesman for Friends of Grandview, stands along the road below his home that overlooks the proposed site of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s proposed 2,200- unit development./ Photo by Todd Newcomer.

The storm of controversy surrounding River Trails Ranch may be contagious. A group calling itself the Friends of Grandview recently formed with a mission to watch-dog the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s ambitious development plan. And while the group is not adamantly opposed to development in the Grandview area, it would like to see concerns addressed and impacts lightened.

In September of last year, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe along with the Crader family announced plans for roughly 2,000 new units and a million square feet of commercial development on a 920-acre site roughly two miles east of Durango. A central component of the team’s plan was the donation of land to Mercy Medical Center, which plans to leave its undersized building in downtown Durango and relocate to an expanded facility. Like River Trails Ranch, the development plan is a “back to basics” approach to community planning that concentrates on traditional town and cityscapes.

Since the announcement, the tribe and the Craders have split, and an approaching deadline for loan funding for the new hospital has led to a request to fast-track the planning process. The tribe’s plans for the now 682-acre parcel also have gained some clarity, and 2,211 units are planned in a recently submitted conceptual plan.

However, Tim Zink, operations manager for the tribe’s growth fund, said that the development will remain conceptual for the time being. “To get too far into details at this point doesn’t make sense,” he said. “Until we get an area plan from the city, we don’t really know what we can do out there.”

A call to lay groundwork

This uncertainty combined with the fast-track request is one of the major criticisms the Friends of Grandview has of the project. Wally White, spokesman for the group, said that it is time for the Grandview plan to become more than a concept.

“The approval process so far is ‘cart before the horse,’” he said. “They’ve been rushing to get approval but they don’t have any plans for infrastructure in place. You don’t rush into this kind of development without laying the groundwork.”

White said that the group of adjacent property owners is not trying to derail the development of Grandview, but he stressed that there are serious reservations about the plan as it exists.

“Grandview is the only area that’s left for Durango to grow into,” he said. “None of us area against the development per se. We accept that it’s going to happen, but the development process is being compromised. The infrastructure isn’t in place.”

Compiling a list of concerns

The Friends of Grandview’s leading concern about the development is the traffic that will spill onto Highway 160. White noted that though the tribe is now proposing roughly 2,200 new homes, as many as 5,200 could fill the area on adjacent parcels like the Craders’, making Grandview the second largest city in La Plata County. These car trips combined with an already dark picture on Highway 160 could be disastrous, according to White.

“The major issue now is traffic,” he said. “Right now, traffic on the corridor from Elmore’s to Farmington Hill is rated a level ‘E’ by CDOT. It’s already only one step away from their lowest level ‘F.’”

With this in mind, White said the Friends of Grandview would like to see a comprehensive traffic study undertaken, a study that evaluates all existing and future development. In addition to congestion on the roadway, White mentioned the associated impacts to air quality in an inverted area that already attracts smog.

“Once you get 11,000 more car trips a day, we’ll see all kinds of crap in the air out there,” he said. “That’s an issue that simply hasn’t been addressed.”

The Friends of Grandview also are asking who will pay to extend city water, sewer and other services to Grandview. White said that as it stands now, local taxpayers will have to carry that burden.

“The city doesn’t have an impact fee structure as of yet,” White said. “Because of that taxpayers could end up carrying the bill for this development.”

White also cited the potential for commercial development in Grandview to take dollars away from downtown businesses, saying, “I don’t think anyone in Durango has a clue how much this is going to cost them.”

Putting on the brakes

With these concerns and others like wildlife impacts and economic demand for the project in mind, the Friends of Grandview wonder why there is a push to rush the project through the planning pipe. However, last Tuesday, the City of Durango announced that it shares this concern.

A barn near Highway 160 fronts the acreage designated for development. The City of Durango has
announced that the review process would not be fast-tracked./ Photo by Todd Newcomer.

City Planner Greg Hoch commented, “In essence, the city, its elected and appointed officials and its staff are uneasy proceeding with the fast-track time-frame. The city is going to basically postpone its decision making to allow for more public comment, exploration of the project’s details and more time to meet with affected entities and property owners.”

Hoch stressed that the city is not taking a stand against Mercy Medical Center, but that a proper planning process is necessary for a development of this scope. “This does not mean that the city does not support Mercy Medical Center and its efforts to begin construction on the new hospital,” Hoch said. “It simply reflects the fact that the city cannot focus solely on the hospital when the context and setting within which the hospital is to occur is so significant for the city’s future.”

A look in the crystal ball

Zink said that while the tribe has been committed to the hospital’s compressed timeline, it also is committed to resolving the public’s concerns. He referenced the “charrette” process last January as an intensive effort to gauge public input up front, and he said that the public will be a vital component throughout the life of the project.

“The charrette process went a long way to get people involved early and bring issues to the table,” Zink said. “There are still a lot of issues that need to be worked out. The highway is a big one, but we are looking at a phased project. The 2,200 units are not coming on at once.”

Zink added that the tribe’s ability to resolve all impacts will likely guide the project’s phasing. “Until you find safe and effective solutions, you can’t grow beyond those choke-points,” he said.

Zink also noted that economic demand for housing in a dense “traditional neighborhood design” in Grandview will be one of the project’s guiding forces. “We’ve been up front about our vision, but it’s also somewhat of a crystal ball,” he said. “Is this a situation that will appeal to people? Will people want to live in a dense area like this? We don’t know.”
The Friends of Grandview are looking into a different crystal ball, according to White. With the announcement that the city would not fast-track the planning process, some clarity was gained.

“I think this is a step in the right direction, but there’s a lot more to be done,” White said. “These should be major concerns for every resident of Durango and La Plata County.”

And White said that as the process moves forward, the Friends of Grandview will be on hand to make sure those concerns are addressed.






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