Explorations at Elmore’s
Alternatives floated for State Land Board parcel

A 558-acre State Land Board parcel sits next to the Three Springs development. La Plata County is currently considering getting into the development business on the parcel and is floating two alternatives for the vacant land, both of which mix residential and light industrial./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Anna Thomas

A dusty parcel of land north of Elmore’s corner might soon see some action. Actually, not soon. Not for another seven years or so, and even then, it’s still up in the air.

The parcel, a 558-acre tract located on the northwest corner of County Roads 234 and 235, is owned by the State Land Board, an agency entrusted with securing revenue for K-12 education in Colorado. By and large, that revenue has historically come in the form of monies collected from leases for oil and gas operations.

But, as is the nature with pesky nonrenewable energy sources, wells run dry. In the face of the predicted decline of oil and gas revenues, the State Land Board is looking elsewhere for funding options. In this case, at land development that would generate revenue from the growth of local and regional businesses.

County Road 235 heads west toward the hospital and Three Springs from its recently improved intersection with County Road 234. Rough and cobbled, most of the traffic it sees isn’t from doctors in Lexuses or moms in minivans, but rather from tractors and oil field rigs. Several active well pads dot the area, which is surrounded by hay fields and farmhouses. Scruffy cattle graze the seeded gash of a major high-pressure gas line, the yellow tags of their ears coordinated with the yellow flags on the ground.

This quiet plot has been the focus of much scrutiny in the past few months. La Plata County, in partnership with the State Land Board, instituted the wordy “Feasibility Analysis and Conceptual Land Use Study” to assess the impact of potential development of the property. The study incorporates elements of the County’s strategic plan, adopted in 2008, namely the promotion of local economic development in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner.

This spring, a series of focus groups, community meetings and one-on-one interviews were conducted. Representatives from utility companies, public agencies, businesses and area residents addressed issues such as where the water would come from, how much land would be set aside for residential versus commercial or industrial use, and how the integrity of the natural and agrarian environment would be preserved.

In this dire economic climate, isn’t the “build it and they will come” attitude akin to paying your bills with a credit card?

Not at all, according to La Plata County Assistant Manager Joanne Spina.

“The downturn in the economy enables thoughtful discussion, so that if and when the Land Board chooses to develop the property, they already have the information they need to act on,” Spina explained.

Last week, La Plata County released two alternative conceptual plans based on the community input collected earlier in the year. The plans, designed by Denver-based planning and market analysis firm Design Workshop, include a phased evolution in which development would begin in 2017 and continue almost until the end of this century.

In both alternatives, development would begin with decidedly unglamorous but revenue-generating light industrial and office facilities, a la Bodo Park. Over time, development for the same types of uses would proceed at a rate of up to five acres per year, with the addition of residential development and a proposed school by the time today’s toddlers are raising toddlers of their own. By that time, in 2035, according to U.S. Census data, the population of La Plata County is expected to be more than 86,000, double what it was in 2000. The 80-acre plot for the proposed school has already been purchased by the 9-R School District.

In keeping with the community’s environmental values, both plans preserve more than 40 percent of the total acreage as open space.

The differences? According to the study’s website, Alternative A devotes more land use to office buildings similar to the scale of those in Durango’s Tech Center. Due to the smaller relative building footprint of such structures, less land would be occupied by buildings.

Alternative B apportions more land for residential and light industrial and commercial uses than does Alternative A. Because industrial buildings typically require more expanses of flat land for the building footprint, more space would be occupied by buildings.

In addition, a network of roads would facilitate transportation via personal vehicles and a bus system that would ideally connect with Durango’s T. The major differences between the proposed transportation plans is in the impact of traffic on existing roadways.

In Alternative A, the alignment of roadways would encourage more traffic to the east, onto County Road 234. In Alternative B, that traffic would be directed to the west, toward the developing Three Springs area. Both plans, according to the study’s findings, would require improvements on County Roads 234 and 235, as well as the construction of an arterial route to the Three Springs area.

As for the existing natural gas facilities, they will remain active and have been incorporated into both plans. In the event that the wells become unviable, they may be capped and integrated into future design, making parking lots that much lovelier.

In keeping with one of La Plata County’s core tenets of its strategic plan, elements of sustainable design and development are being considered.

Some of these elements, according to Spina, might include “solar capability, xeriscaping, the way that water is captured and reutilized, and if the State Land Board would require the buildings to be LEED certified.”

One of the more common concerns discussed in focus groups was that of water.

“There’s no water,” Spina said of the site.

Options being explored, according to Spina, are obtaining water from the City of Durango or from the La Plata Archuleta Water District, a provider of rural domestic water systems for southeast La Plata County. Infrastructure currently does not exist to supply water to the site.

As opposed to simply throwing a bunch of prefab buildings on the site willy-nilly, expecting both a profit and local support, the feasibility study is designed to provide the County and the State Land Board with a sense of the myriad issues involved with developing the property.

“Taking into consideration the views of the community,” said Spina, “what it will say to the Land Board is that if indeed you did development in this way, these are the economic, transportation and environmental issues that you would deal with.”

The two alternatives, which are posted on the study’s website, are up for public comment and review. An explanation of the key differences and similarities of each are presented on the site, and aerial photos with overlays of the proposed phases of development are available to view and download. The community is also invited to take a survey regarding the alternative plans by June 2.

Design Workshop will then take that feedback and configure a preferred alternative. This alternative plan will be presented at a public meeting Mon., June 14, at 5:30 p.m. at Three Springs.

“The public is welcome, invited and encouraged to attend,” said Spina of the meeting.

Based on the outcome of that meeting and all information gathered during the study thus far, the final plan for proposed development will be drafted sometime this fall. From that point, the State Land Board will make a decision on whether or not to develop the property. •

For more information, visit www.LaPlataCountySTL.com or e-mail info@LaPlataCountySTL.com.