S.J. County denies Red Mtn. developer

Cumulative impacts, emergency services among considerations

by Missy Votel


Opponents of a proposed housing development on Red Mountain Pass are breathing a sigh of relief.

On Tuesday morning, San Juan County commissioners voted to deny a building permit to developer David Dow. The Grand Junction resident had submitted an application to build five single-family residences on private mining claims within the remote area north of Silverton.

“Basically, the commissioners decided there was not enough information provided by the applicant to make a decision,” San Juan County Administrator Willie Tookey said Tuesday.

Commissioners also took into account the cumulative effect of such a development on the sensitive high-alpine environment.

“It wasn’t so much the impact of each individual cabin but the effect on the whole area,” said Tookey. “If there’s going to be development, we need to make sure it’s done well with as minimal impact as possible.”

According to San Juan County code, any action taken on one parcel must be considered applicable to all other similar parcels within a 2-mile radius. In the case of the Dow proposal, there are 48 mining claims within 1,500 feet. Therefore if one landowner is allowed to build a cabin with drilled wells, septic systems, wood stoves, driveways and parking areas, then the county must consider the ramifications if the remaining 43 did the same.

About 15 people showed up to the commissioner’s meeting Tuesday morning in Silverton. Time was allowed for public comment, and Tookey said the general sentiment was opposed to the project. 

Ski tracks criss cross the lower flanks of Red Mountain. A Grand Junction developer was recently denied his plans to build five cabins near the popular recreation area./ File photo

Durango backcountry skier and former owner of Pine Needle Mountaineering, Keith Roush, was one of those in attendance. Roush applauded the commissioners for showing a “great deal of professionalism” in their consideration.  “The commissioners were each very aware of the increased use of the pass for recreation, particularly in the winter, and the resultant pressure on 550 access, parking, etc.,” said Roush.

Aside from those pressures, the issue of emergency services was also broached, with members of the Silverton emergency services community in attendance. The mining claims in question sit at over 11,400 feet and are more than a mile from the highway, with no road access in winter and no utilities or municipal water.

“They are, of course, concerned with safety around the road and the difficulty of providing fire and rescue services to persons and structures,” said Roush.

Perhaps the most vocal opponent of the proposal is Chris George, longtime resident and 40-year owner of the historic St. Paul Lodge, which is adjacent to some of the claims Dow proposed to build on. The area is near the base of McMillan’s Peak and U.S. Basin, both popular recreation areas on Forest Service land.

“It’s a big, big, big relief, of course,” George said Wednesday.  He also praised San Juan County for sticking to its own rules. “Basically, they invoked their own code regarding the number of structures.”

Dow formally submitted his plan to San Juan County on Oct. 28. At that meeting, Commissioner Scott Fetchenhier motioned to table the issue until the commission’s Nov. 10 meeting in order to seek legal counsel.

In addition to the claims on Red Mountain, including the 9.6-acre Cincinnati claim he bought in December 2014 for $76,000 – Dow also owns the nearby Mountain Belle and Addie S. huts, as well as the Artist’s Cabin, south on Highway 550 at Chattanooga.

“(Dow) really wouldn’t reveal what he’s doing,” said George of the planning meeting he attended Oct. 28. “What happens when he turns them into vacation rentals?”

Despite winning this week’s battle, the war may not be over. “I think (Dow) will work with the county’s planning director to see if he can put that missing information together,” said Tookey.