Clouds over Indian Shadow
County frowns on ‘perfect mountain’ development

A backhoe goes into action at the proposed Indian Shadow development early this week. The “shared ranch” recently drew objections and threats of legal action from La Plata County./Photo David Halterman

by Will Sands

Fireworks have been flying over Indian Shadow. The “shared ranch” development, which is planned for a parcel just north of Hesperus, has drawn objections and threats of legal action from La Plata County. However, the developers and county officials recently dodged a day in court and appear to be ironing out their differences.

Two Texas-based companies – Cypress Real Estate Advisors and Urbana Communities – have partnered on Indian Shadow with Russ Smith, of Prudential Triple S Realty, and Tom Morse, founder of Legacy Properties West. Together, the consortium is forging ahead with a plan to create “the perfect mountain residence.” Located less than a mile north of U.S. Hwy. 160 and the Kennebec Café, Indian Shadow would include 49 higher-end homesites on nearly 1,800 acres.

“We’re doing a shared ranch concept, which is pretty typical of other properties in the state,” Smith said. “It’s a clustered, well-designed project on 1,781 acres, and 93 percent of the property will remain undeveloped, which is kind of nice.”

Indian Shadow would be an “amenity-based project,” Smith added. Plans call for an equestrian facility, a private trails network and enhancement of a mile and a half of the La Plata River into a Gold Medal quality trout fishery. Rounding out Indian Shadow would be a central ranch facility that would serve as a community center and meeting place for homeowners.

“This is a development that has been well thought out, and it’s one that’s being well received,” Smith said.

While buyers may be flocking toward Indian Shadow, La Plata County officials are not. The development had claimed an exemption from the planning process, citing the State of Colorado’s 35-acre rule, which prevents local governments from regulating the subdivision of land into parcels of 35 acres or greater. However, Indian Shadow’s approach to the one house per 35 acres is also fairly creative. The development’s 1,781 acres sit in two large pods connected by a much narrower linkage, almost resembling a pair of handcuffs. Each separate piece of property contains two bulbs connected by a two-mile long strip that is only 10-feet wide. The unusual configuration is a first for La Plata County, and there has been a fear that Indian Shadow has manipulated the layout in order to seize on the 35-acre rule and “cut some corners,” according Wally White, La Plata County commissioner.

“When this project was submitted, we wrote them a letter and told them if they wanted to continue they would have a very hard time,” White said. “We also told them they could face legal action if they went forward outside the planning process.”

Because of the unusual layout, the county then made the case that Indian Shadow is an attempt to evade local land use regulations and skip the planning process. “We argued that the approach with the corridors and the resulting subdivision that would be created would be an evasion of the state and local subdivision regulations,” said Erick Aune, director of Community Planning Services. “We believe that Colorado’s 35-acre rule didn’t anticipate this type of subdivision.”

Indian Shadow could significantly affect public health, safety and aesthetics, Aune added. La Plata County has a laundry list of concerns regarding the proposal, including visibility issues in the Highway 160 corridor, possible geologic hazards, impacts on wildlife and the La Plata River, road and bridge standards, and preservation of prime agricultural land, among others.

“It’s all pretty epic,” Aune said. “This is a significant development.”

Had Indian Shadow skirted the process, it could have broken trail for other unorthodox 35-acre configurations. That precedent could mean significant consequences for local citizens, Aune argued.

“Potentially, people could say that Indian Shadow got away with it, and we want to do it elsewhere,” he said. “When you have a development of this scope without a health and safety review, you could be putting the community in jeopardy down the road.”

Smith, of Indian Shadow, countered that the development team has done its best to be above board and has worked for the last several years to meet high standards. He also noted that 35-acre developments come in all shapes and sizes, even in La Plata County.

“This is something other than a straight 35-acre development,” Smith commented. “But there is no typical 35-acre layout. There are lots of unusual 35-acre subdivisions in the county. Plus, we’ve been here working on this for two-and-a-half years. It’s not like this is a brand new project.”

Nonetheless, the Indian Shadow development team has agreed to go back to the drawing board and begin a public process. “The developers have indicated a willingness to work with us,” Aune said. “We’re establishing a development agreement process that will mitigate for public health and safety issues.”

Both Aune and White hailed the recent change of heart as “good news” for area residents. However, they also called for adjustments to the land use code to prevent a similar plan from resurfacing.

“We hope that La Plata County can augment its regulations according to state law,” Aune concluded. “That’s the only way to provide some assurances that this kind of development pattern won’t continue in the future.” •



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