Friends of the Animas Valley keep up fight
Group looks beyond River Trails Ranch to other growth issues

Members of Friends of the Animas Valley, from left, Nancy Van Dover, Annemarie Nobman, Richard Nobman, and Tom Klema pose near River Trails Ranch recently. Since working to defeat the massive development, the group has moved on to watchdogging growth throughout the county and improving the public process./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

The Friends of the Animas Valley celebrated a victory in early November of last year. The Durango City Council voted 3-2 to deny annexation of River Trails Ranch, and the group realized its goal of blocking 800 new units north of Durango. However, the Friends of the Animas Valley is not riding off into the sunset. The group is still keeping an eye on River Trails Ranch, but more importantly is broadening its activism to include the entire Animas Valley and beyond.

Three years ago, FOAV formed to counter Bob Wolff and John Wessman’s plans to develop the Kroeger Ranch, a 245-acre parcel immediately north of Durango. At that time, the group watchdogged the proposal through the La Plata County planning process and eventually conceded to the county’s approval of 67 units for the 245-acre property. In February 2003, FOAV reconvened when it was learned that Wolff and Wessman had changed their vision for Kroeger Ranch and instead were applying for 800 new homes and inclusion of the development within Durango city limits. That first meeting at the La Plata County Fairgrounds kicked off a steady campaign that ranged from daily door-to-door canvassing to endless hours in meetings. Eight months later, the council rejected River Trails Ranch, and several months after that vote FOAV is still going strong.

Ready to say ‘no’

Speaking of the defeat of the development, Renee Parsons, the group’s president, credits the local community more than FOAV.

“We had a lot of people coming up to us who had something to contribute,” she said. “We pulled all of that together and the universe was on our side. The community was ready to say ‘no.’”

Rather than packing up after last November’s vote, Parson said that FOAV felt empowered and since that time, the group has not only survived but grown from a core of 15 volunteers during the heat of the River Trails controversy to a core that is 25 people strong.

“New people have been coming to us, and they want to be involved,” Parsons said.

Richard Nobman, FOAV vice-president, said that new and old members will be involved in a new approach to activism.

“River Trails Ranch was a largely reactive process,” he said. “We want to be proactive rather than reactive.”

Helter Skelter

Nobman and Parsons agreed that there is both a need for FOAV and action as Durango enters the future. Parsons pointed to continued unprecedented growth and characterized the current state of affairs as “Helter Skelter.”

“It’s out of control,” she said. “It’s not planned. It’s not managed.”

She added that a vision has been established for Durango’s future but questions where it came from. “There’s this concept that the city alone is going to grow to 40,000 people,” she said. “There was no City Council decision on that, no discussion. Who’s driving this? Who’s making these plans?”

Nobman said that the public should be planning for Durango’s future rather than bowing to growth pressures. “Why can’t we have a referendum on growth and let the people decide,” he said. “They always like to portray the opposition as NIMBYs, newcomers and no-nothings. But the opposition cuts across all economic levels and political beliefs. All sorts of people are asking if we really want to live in a city the size of Grand Junction.”

Getting the public in the process

In this spirit, some of FOAV’s future efforts will be directed at getting the public more involved with the public planning process. Parsons said that the group saw the process from the inside out during the River Trails process and would like to see some changes.

“One of our commitments is to work to improve that process,” Parsons said. “We have no ax to grind because we won. But we’re not happy with the process.”

In particular, Parsons referenced inadequate time for public comment during public hearings. “If you look at our hearings, the developer has infinite time to speak,” she said. “The public gets maybe five minutes per person. This might have been a process that worked 10 years ago, but now it’s outdated.” 4

Nobman concurred, adding, “The silent majority gets overwhelmed by the current process of government and becomes like deer in the headlights.”

Spencer Zogg, of Heritage Construction, helps hold up a wall in a new townhome along Animas View Drive
last week. Friends of the Animas Valley is working to see that the entire area immidiately northeast of
town remains relatively undeveloped./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

The Northeast Quadrant

In addition to working to improve public involvement in the planning process, FOAV is going to continue to monitor River Trails Ranch and the undeveloped property around it. The area of the Animas Valley north of Durango is known as the “Northeast Quadrant,” and the group would like to see it removed from the city’s comprehensive plan.

“As long as that Northeast Quadrant is in the comprehensive plan, we’ll be fighting developers in that area forever,” Parsons said.

FOAV also plans on taking its vision of a relatively undeveloped Northeast Quadrant into what remains of the Animas Valley. This will mean work with La Plata County as well as the City of Durango.

“Because we are the Friends of the Animas Valley, we are interested in maintaining the Animas Valley Land Use Plan,” Nobman said. “There have been several proposals and changes that we’re recently made for high density housing in the valley.”

Nobman added that the Land Use Plan creates the only formal zoning in La Plata County and without it, Animas Valley open space will be threatened. “The reason people come to Durango is for the outdoors,” he said. “People don’t come here to see subdivisions and new urbanism. The beauty of the valley is its open space. Why should it be spoiled by sprawl and development.”

A new political force

FOAV will also look beyond the Animas Valley and into growth issues elsewhere in the county in coming months. Parsons noted that the group recently adopted a mission statement that calls for addressing growth impacts and preserving Durango’s sense of community, quality of life and natural setting.

“That mission statement takes us beyond the valley, but we haven’t decided how we’re going forward with it,” Parsons said.

Nobman added, “We are interested in what’s going on in the rest of the county, and we’re looking into some issues.”

Looking back on River Trails Ranch, Parsons noted that it was the luck of the draw but the Friends of the Animas Valley has grown into a strong La Plata County voice.

“I think that Friends of the Animas Valley, and it was just a matter of timing, has really become a new political force in the community on growth issues,” she said.

And with an abundance of growth issues currently at hand, Parsons and Nobman agreed that FOAV will be a familiar presence on Durango’s streets, in its meeting rooms and in the headlines.

“We’re alive and kicking and continually growing,” Nobman said.

“Actually we’re just getting ready to kick,” Parsons concluded.






News Index Second Index Opinion Index Classifieds Index Contact Index