River Trails returns to the spotlight

Once known as the Kroeger Ranch and later called River Trails Ranch, the controversial property northeast of Durango again has a new identity. Calling it the Riverside subdivision, developers Bob Wolff and John Wessman have resurrected an old plan for 67 large lots on the 245 acres immediately northeast of town. The city council's 2003 rejection of their plan for 800 units on the same property is fresh in their minds.

Wolff and Wessman submitted a preliminary plat for the subdivision to the La Plata County Planning Department on Oct. 29. Lot prices are expected to start at $350,000.

Wolff relived a little recent history, noting that he and Wessman had county approval for 67 units on the property in 2002.

"In 2002, we got approval to do 67 lots and then the city said 'no' we want you to do it according to the Comprehensive Plan," Wolff said.

According to Wolff, the city's 1997 Comprehensive Plan led to the plan for 800 units in the form of River Trails Ranch.

"We bought the property because it had been approved for 1,038 units," he said. "We wanted to do a good project and hired Peter Calthorpe, the co-founder of the Congress for New Urbanism. We wanted a project that would be a model for other communities."

However, what Wolff and Wessman got was incredible opposition spearheaded by the Friends of the Animas Valley. And in Nov. of 2003, the Durango City Council refused to annex River Trails Ranch by a vote of 3 to 2.

That denial has brought the developers back to the 2002 county approval, something Wolff is less than happy about.

"The city planned for 25 years to have the northeast quadrant developed, and spent $3.2 million on improvements," he said. "To me, government officials have responsibility to spend taxpayer money wisely. To think that eight to 10 previous city councils were not meeting this obligation is amusing to me."

Wolff said that he is currently working with the county planning department to reconcile a discrepancy on the northern section of the property. On that section, the county's land use plan calls for one house per 10 acres and the plat shows one house per three acres. The discrepancy may lead either to a redesign of the project or Wolff and Wessman having to submit a rezoning request.

Bioneers in Durango given high marks

A local offshoot of the national Bioneers movement received high praise recently. In the latest issue of Utne Reader, Bioneers in Durango, which took place on April 2 & 3, was credited with being the "most impressive" extension of Bioneers so far.

Bioneers was founded in 1990 by Kenny Ausubel with a mission of encouraging environmental restoration and traditional farming practices and rescuing biological and cultural diversity. This spring, Durango locals Kate Grace MacElveen and Will Hays decided to bring Bioneers to Durango with a two-day conference that included talks, video screenings and an honoring of local "biological pioneers."

"The most impressive so far . . . is a group in Durango, Colorado," wrote Utne Reader of the efforts to spread the Bioneers message.

The article went on to say, "organizers Kate Grace MacElveen and Will Hays drew more than 150 people to a two-day conference that included screenings of Bioneers videos and an awards ceremony honoring local activists, farmers and entrepreneurs, as well as workshops and strategy sessions."

MacElveen noted that in addition to the Utne Reader story, the local conference was also lauded during the annual Bioneers conference in California in mid-Oct. "Durango was mentioned several times at the Bioneers conference and celebrated as a happening," she said. "We're delighted to be supporting the dissemination of the Bioneers' stories of inspiration about what's happening on the planet."

MacElveen and Hays plan to produce another local weekend focused on sustainability this spring. If you're interested in volunteering or supporting the project, call 375-1170.

Depression strikes Fort Lewis College

Blame it on the election, the weather or mid-terms, but an annual wave of depression is hitting Fort Lewis College. An estimated 150 students were expected to be screened for depression this week in what psychologist Susan McGinness said is typically the busiest time of the year for the college's counseling center.

The scheduled screening, which is voluntary and intended to target new clients, is part of a national effort that allows health centers to pick the date they wish to carry it out.

The Fort Lewis counseling center chose this week because of a traditional spike in depression that hits between late Oct. and early Nov.

"Anxiety is probably the biggest stresser right now," said McGinness, who is the director at the college's counseling center, adding that mid-terms and heavy workloads contribute to the stress.

Although the current wave hits annually, McGinness said that this spike in depression is not Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is common between the winter months between Dec. and March.

Avalanche closures go into effect

The return of snow brings with it the return of closure to public access in several areas in the vicinity of the Silverton Ski Area. Effective last Monday, backcountry access to certain public lands in the Cement Creek and Colorado Basin areas near Silverton was closed. The temporary closure is necessary to protect the general public from dangers associated with the snow and avalanche study including avalanches and explosives use.

This is the sixth season of data collection, which is authorized by the BLM in a special-use permit to Core Mountain Enterprises, LLC. The area of the restriction and closure is defined as the Silverton Ski Area's Restricted Access Boundary Area. Failure to heed the closure could result in fines up to $1,000 and up to a year in prison. The closures will be in place through June 15 of next year.

Information on this Restriction and Closure Order may be obtained by calling the BLM office in Silverton at 387-5171 or the Silverton Ski Area at 387-5706.

-compiled by Will Sands





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