The Iron Horse Inn, above, was bought last week by a group of local investors who would like to turn part of the multi-unit property into affordable housing./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Iron Horse Inn changes hands

The Iron Horse Inn was bought last week by a group of local residents that would like to see the multi-unit property turned into permanent housing, with a portion set aside as affordable housing.

"We would love to see it go that way," said Frank Sinton, one of the new owners, who also developed Dalton Ranch. "That is our intention."

Sinton said the group closed on the property, located at 5800 Main Ave., just within Durango's northern limits, on New Year's Eve. He declined to disclose the purchase price but said the property was bought from a local couple.

Sinton said the plans for the property are still preliminary and hinge on several factors, the first of which would be to change the zoning from commercial to residential use. He said the group is beginning to explore that possibility, and if all goes as planned, would like to have a proposal submitted to the city by the end of February.

Another stumbling block to the project could be bringing the 146 one-bedroom loft units up to code, Sinton said. The building predates both the county and city planning departments, and Sinton said he believes it was built in 1971.

"There could be building code issues that would be expensive to repair," he said.

Another option for the property would be to operate partly as a motel and partly as permanent townhomes, possibly converting some into two-bedroom units, he said.

However, Sinton said the group is dedicated to making the affordable housing idea fly.

"The property really lends itself well to affordable housing," he said.

In a step toward that end, Sinton said the Iron Horse's new owners have been in contact with Southwest Housing Solutions, a nonprofit organization that works to provide housing for low- to moderate-income residents of Southwest Colorado.

Tony Stohl, CEO of Housing Solutions, said although it is premature to discuss the project in depth, his group is interested in seeing affordable housing at the site.

"We pray it will work because it's a wonderful opportunity," he said, reiterating that the location is ideal. "It's the perfect spot. There's bus lines and all sorts of things."

Stohl said creating affordable housing is crucial right now, with real estate prices rising beyond the reach of much of Durango's working class.

"The gap is widening like crazy, and the problem just becomes worse and worse," he said. "If people don't eventually own a home, then sooner or later, they'll leave."

Nevertheless, he acknowledged that "there are a ton of things that have to happen" for the project to come to fruition.

"If we can do it, it's going to be a super opportunity," he said. "We're excited. I think it could be a win-win, which is great."

Council approves Grandview map

After a relatively uneventful and controversy-free meeting, the development of Grandview moved a step closer to reality. By a unanimous vote, the Durango City Council approved the Grandview Area Plan, a vision for the future of the entire Grandview area. The plan was sparked by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe's push to develop 2,211 units on 682 acres, approximately 20 percent of the land covered by the plan.

As the meeting got under way, City Planner Greg Hoch stated that there had been two prior meetings to discuss the future of Grandview and roughly 200 people took part at each one. "There was a lot of initial public comment at each of those times," he said.

Hoch also noted that transportation issues, a significant criticism of the Grandview development, have largely been solved. In particular, he mentioned the recent appearance of $10 million for the addition of two lanes to U.S. Highway 160 from Grandview to Durango. "A number of opponents to this area plan have been saying show us the money," he said. "Well, all of a sudden the money showed up."

Hoch said that as part of the area plan, the city is also exploring alternatives to skirt Highway 160. He pointed to an alternate route on County Road 234 as well as a potential new road connecting Ewing Mesa and Highway 3. Such a road would cross the area currently containing many of Horse Gulch's trails.

"We know that throughout the entire eastern section of the county, there will have to be some traffic alternatives to alleviate pressure on Highway 160," Hoch said.

When the vote came, Mayor Virginia Castro commented that the resolution of transportation issues had changed her vote and made her in favor of the area plan. The tribe's proposed development makes its next stop this Thursday, Jan. 8, before the Durango Planning Commission. The commission will begin to discuss annexation of the property inside city limits. The annexation question will eventually go before the council.

Snowpack now above average

In spite of some inconveniences, the three-day storm that hit on the evening of Jan. 1 offered a major boost to the region's ski areas and boosted the basin's snowpack to above average levels for the first time in several years.

After the system had passed, Durango Mountain Resort reported 36 inches of fresh in three days. The resort reported a total of 5 feet of snowfall since Christmas and a midway base of 65 inches.

"These are some of the best conditions I've ever seen on Purgatory Mountain," said Vice President of Mountain Operations Mike McCormack, a 25-year Purgatory employee.

The Silverton Mountain Ski Area reported more dramatic conditions. Jenny Ader, of Silverton Mountain, noted that heavy snowfalls forced closures of Red Mountain, Molas and Coal Bank passes and shut off Silverton from the outside for two days. On Tuesday, Silverton Mountain was reporting a 92 inch mid-mountain base and commented that local historians were calling the recent storm the biggest to hit the San Juans in 11 years.

Ski Hesperus received 26 inches from the storm, a windfall that has made for the small area's best conditions in five years. Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 44 inches of new snowfall out of the storm, pushing its midway base to 102 inches, and Telluride received 24 inches from the storm for a base of 48 inches.

As of Jan. 5, snow data sites were posting welcome results. The Cascade station reported 109 percent of average total precipitation; the Molas Lake station turned in 117 percent of average; and the Vallecito Lake gauge reported 118 percent of average. The storm put the entire region, including the San Miguel, Dolores, San Juan, and Animas basins, at 106 percent of average total precipitation.The number makes this the third-highest basinwide snowpack in Colorado, exceeded only by the Gunnison River Basin at 113 percent and the Rio Grande Basin at 107 percent.

compiled by Missy Votel

and Will Sands





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