|By Erin Smith, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 29, 2004 - CREEDE, Colo. -- Despite heavy opposition and requests to hold off on a decision, Mineral County commissioners, after about eight hours of hearings on Tuesday, unanimously approved a land use development plan and zoning for the controversial Village at Wolf Creek.
Chairman Lonnie Rogers said the commission plans to decide Monday upon the developers' application for designation of a new phase, phase one.
The 287 acres of mountain property east of the Wolf Creek Ski Area and south of U.S. 160 could house up to 10,000 people in a self-contained village resort.
When fully developed, it could contain up to 1,200 hotel rooms, 222,000 square feet of commercial space, 129 lots for single-family units and 1,643 multifamily units. Developers of the project are Billy J. "Red" McCombs, owner of the Minnesota Vikings football team, and Texan Bob Honts.
At a packed public hearing before county commissioners Tuesday, Honts presented his case one more time. The project has been off and on since the mid-1980s.
Honts maintained that application standards for the development have been met and the Village at Wolf Creek in five years will generate $27 million more in tax revenue for Archuleta, Mineral and Rio Grande counties.
Honts said the development will be in compliance with regulations, adding: "We intend to follow the laws."
Opponents of the village cited social impacts, wetlands degradation and lack of water plus the denial of due process as reasons for commissioners to hold off their decision, at least until the U.S. Forest Service decides whether to give the village road access.
Davey Pitcher, son of Wolf Creek Ski Area owner Kingsbury Pitcher, who initially supported the McCombs-Honts venture, said the area really is at the whim of weather. Some years there has not been enough snow to operate the ski area; other years the area has not operated because there was too much snow and no way to dispose of it.
Initially, the Pitcher family was in favor of the project because it offered "a lot of hope and promise," but as time went by, the dynamics of the ski area changed and it developed a different clientele than it had 15 years ago, Pitcher explained.
Pitcher said he was concerned about the water in the area, the fact that the developers keep changing their plan for the village, easements, population density, off-site parking and the federal requirements for a scenic easement that could be marred by a "tank farm" of up to seven 6-million-gallon water storage tanks at build-out.
The ski area's Denver lawyer, Andrew Spielman, said the development would be larger than the town of Aspen at build-out. He said the ski area does not oppose private property owners making use of their private property and would support a land use development plan that did not violate the law.
But Spielman maintained that the commissioners had a jurisdictional problem and that they had not given notice to all the appropriate parties.
Also, he noted, the plat for the village keeps changing and he had only been give the latest version a few minutes before he was to speak.
Spielman said commissioners gave the developers an improper waiver for the upcoming application for designation of a new phase, but Rogers replied that the commission did not need to give notice on that.
Spielman also maintained that state law says that no one can submit a subdivision for approval before he has vehicular access to the property. In the case of the Village at Wolf Creek, which is landlocked, the Forest Service still has not given access and the only access is over a dirt road, FS Road 391, which only allows for winter access by foot or snowshoes, not vehicles.
Besides the potential scenic impact from the collection of water tanks more than 40 feet high and 220 feet in diameter (which must be built to withstand a snow load that often reaches 40 feet of snow a year), the project also faces a potential environmental problem from storage of liquefied natural gas, a hazardous substance, the lawyer said.
Water lawyer Jay Montgomery, also representing the ski area, said that the current plan for the village has grown from what the water court approved earlier; McCombs-Honts would have to return to water court for a determination.
He noted that no one knows where the seven water tanks are to be located, their snow load, the impact on wetlands and whether the project is buildable, practical and cost-effective.
"Plans still are not finalized. Plans have not been resubmitted," Montgomery said.
"Can this project be built at the cost they are telling you?" Montgomery asked, noting that commissioners earlier indicated that it was not the county's concern whether the project was financially viable.
Montgomery said lack of financial viability could lead to a bankrupt water company, a property owners' association left holding the bag, failed auxiliary businesses and litigation from which only lawyers would benefit.
About 20 people spoke, and only one, Dusty Hicks, was in favor of the village.
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