Council rejects River Trails Ranch

The Durango City Council rejected annexation of the proposed River Trails Ranch property on Tuesday. To the sound of applause, council members voted down the 800-unit Animas Valley development 3-2. Developers Bob Wolff and John Wessman said that based on the decision they will pursue 67 exclusive units on the property.

Wolff and Wessman had filed an application for the 245-acre development immediately north of Durango. The proposal drew strong resistance from the group "Friends of the Animas Valley," and public discussion on the annexation of the parcel into city limits has been heated throughout numerous meetings.

At its Tuesday meeting, the council deliberated and eventually voted to reject the annexation proposal. Council members Joe Colgan and Aaron Tuscon opposed the decision. Calling it the most difficult decision in his time on council, Colgan said that his vote was based not on the desire of constituents but on what was legally appropriate. Tuscon said that his vote was based on Durango's growing exclusivity and his desire to retain a working class. Tuscon said he shuddered at the thought of 67 "starter castles" on the property, the number of lots that Wolff and Wessman had approval for from La Plata County.

Following the meeting, Wolff said, "We're going back to the same place we were going a year and a half ago, and we'll chalk it up to a very expensive education."

Wolff noted that in early June of last year, he and Wessman approached the city for sewer and water service and were told to come back with a high-density proposal. He said that the 67 units will be served by septic tanks and wells.

In a somewhat related matter, later in the meeting, the council approved two pre-annexation applications for development in Grandview, moving the development and the expansion of Mercy Medical Center forward. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe has proposed 2,211 units on 682 acres east of Durango. A relocated and expanded hospital is central to the plan.

The agreements will allow Mercy to break ground but do little else. A December public hearing is set to consider full annexation.

City Council and staff argued that the agreements do not mean that the development plan has gained approval and said that there will be ample opportunity for public input as the process moves forward. The Friends of Grandview, a group watch-dogging the development, took a different view. After the meeting, spokesman Wally White said the group is not opposed to the hospital but does oppose a compressed planning process. "I am really disappointed with the City Council and their failure to even consider the technical and financial questions that surround the hospital and the tribe's project," he said. "It's a decision that was out of place given that they don't have agreements with the county, they don't have proper studies done and the emotional juggernaut overruled everybody's ability to think clearly."

Local voters weigh in on the issues

La Plata County and State of Colorado voters weighed in last Tuesday.

At the state level, Referendum A, a proposal which would have allowed the issue of $2 billion in bonds to fund yet-to-be-determined water projects, failed by 573,598 votes to 284,883. Amendment 32, which would have raised property taxes in order to help with the state's budget crisis, also failed by 644,194 to 187,246 votes. Wrapping up an overwhelmingly negative state vote, voters also rejected Amendment 33, a proposal to allow video gambling terminals by a vote of 701,944 to 166,503.

Locally, voters in Durango's Central Business District approved a tax increase to fund the marketing and coordination of special events to stimulate local tourism economy. One hundred and ten voters were in favor of the measure to 25 in opposition. The increase should generate roughly $150,000, meaning a jump of $88 per year per $200,000 of property value.

Local voters also approved a property tax increase for the Animas Mosquito Control District. Encompassing roughly 100 square miles, the increase will help mitigate West Nile Virus at the expense of roughly $7 per year per $200,000 of property value.

Closed A-LP meeting triggers lawsuit

The Animas-La Plata Project has prompted yet another lawsuit. Alleging violations of the Open Meeting Law and the Open Records Law, the Taxpayers for the Animas River (TAR) filed suit Oct. 29, saying that an Aug. 14 meeting was held in secret and kept from the public.

A meeting was held at the Sky Ute Casino at that time to discuss large increases in the projected cost of the project that would divert water from the Animas River into Ridges Basin. The total cost projection had gone up 50 percent from $338 million to $500 million.

"The public wasn't given proper notice of this meeting, and the whole meeting was conducted as an executive session," Michael Black of TAR commented. "There were at least seven violations of the Colorado Open Meeting Law in connection with this meeting."

Black said that by law TAR and the public are supposed to get notice of all meetings held by the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District. He additionally said that after receiving notice that a suit was pending, the district announced that a tape recording of the meeting had malfunctioned and the tape contained no sound.

Black concluded, "Keeping information secret is vitally important to keeping the A-LP project alive. They are fighting desperately to keep the truth about this incredible cost increase a secret until this year's appropriations have been passed. If Congress knew the real story on this project and how much it will cost, it would be stopped."

Discovery Museum forges ahead

Efforts to convert the old Durango Powerhouse located at 14th Street and Camino del Rio into the Durango Discovery Museum are moving ahead. Architects Tracy Reynolds and Steve Eccher have been awarded the first phase of design work for the children's museum, which will include focus groups, architectural renderings and a refined budget.

"We are excited to get under way," said Jama Kolosick, Durango Discovery Museum director. "There are many projects falling into place to make our dream of the Durango Discovery Museum a reality."

Geared toward children's hands-on exploration of science and energy, the Discovery Museum would include an outdoor events plaza with public performance space; a giant Smokestack Sundial; wind, solar and hydro exhibits; and a native species carousel.

Earlier this fall, exhaustive environmental tests of the site were completed, and it was determined that thorough clean-up is feasible and affordable.

A historic restoration of the powerhouse, funded by the city of Durango and the Colorado Historical Society, is scheduled to begin before the end of the year.

Big game hunters continue struggle

As the second big game hunting season ended, hunters throughout the state continued to struggle with unseasonably hot, dry weather. However, with the recent onset of winter-like conditions, wildlife biologists say harvest rates should improve in the third and fourth seasons.

Janet George, a Colorado Division of Wildlife biologist in Denver, said that the elk harvest has been well below average in the first two seasons. "Elk hunting success was below average, but deer hunters fared better with average to slightly below-average success," she said.

DOW biologists would have preferred it if winter weather had moved into Colorado after a mild-weathered first season to boost hunter success rates. Unfortunately, unseasonably dry and hot weather plagued most of the second rifle season, which ended on Oct. 26. The third rifle season runs from Nov. 1-7 and the fourth runs from Nov. 8-12.

Little Molas Lake field trip cancelled

A Forest Service field trip planned to Little Molas Lake on the afternoon of Thursday, Nov. 6, has been cancelled because of heavy snow. San Juan National Forest officials had set up the field trip in light of a recently withdrawn decision to help people better understand conflicts at the popular alpine lake.

The San Juan National Forest had made an earlier decision to approve rehabilitation of areas damaged by unregulated camping at Little Molas Lake and to build a developed Forest Service fee campground and picnic area.A year-round parking lot adjacent to U.S. Highway 550 was also planned to offer access to the Colorado Trail. However, public concerns late in the planning process prompted the Forest Service to withdraw its original decision so that public input could be more thoroughly evaluated.

Public meetings will be held in the next few months to allow citizens to offer input on Forest Service proposals to solve natural-resource concerns and recreational issues at the site.

- compiled by Will Sands





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