February 1, 2008

Dunwodys close on $2.1 million purchase of 206 acres at Elk Falls
BOCC to consider rezoning on that land Feb. 21

Tom Locke
Flume Editor

Vera and Drayton Dunwody closed on the purchase of 206 acres of land known as the Elk Falls Sportsmen's Ranch for $2.1 million in a deal that closed Jan. 21.

The land is adjacent to the Elk Falls Ranch subdivision in northeast Park County. It lies north, and slightly west, of Pine Junction.

A letter to members of the sportsmen's club from manager Roger Huser confirmed the closing. Huser referred questions to club president Wendell Williams, who did not return phone calls.

Vera Dunwody confirmed the deal had closed for $2.1 million.

Elk Falls Map

The Elk Falls parcell of 206 acres is targeted for rezoning.  It is west of the Park County-Jefferson-County line and east of Lion's Head and north and slightly west of Pine Junction.  (Courtesy Map)

Rezoning

The Dunwodys have applied to Park County to rezone the land from residential to agricultural, and they take the position that the application is to make the zoning comply with the way the property has been used historically rather than to introduce new uses to the property.

"That's how we get it [the zoning] to conform [to the use]," said Vera Dunwody. "It's always been agricultural (use). Let's get the paperwork to back up what it's always been."

She said that a search of records from Park County's Board of County Commissioners shows no document indicating there was ever a request to the commissioners to zone the property residential.

Instead, she said, the developer of the adjacent Woodside subdivision wrote an "R" on a map of the land in making an application in the early 1970s, and that "R" might have stood for either residential or ranch. Later, in 1974, the "R" was interpreted as "residential," and the property was colored red on a map to represent "residential," she said.

That was "absolutely" a mistake, she said, and their rezoning application is designed to correct the mistake.

"Whoever heard of 1,300 acres (the original ranch size) as residential, under residential guidelines, which would be one single-family dwelling, plus outbuildings," she said.

The Dunwodys want to use the property as a "guest ranch," and that's the historical use, she said.

"It's been a guest ranch for 70 years. It's just non-conforming [with the present residential zoning]," said Vera Dunwody.

"The guest ranch doesn't die. It doesn't just evaporate," she said.

Weddings

The Dunwodys own property in Jefferson County that is adjacent to the 206 acres, and residents of the Elk Falls Ranch subdivision have complained of noise from weddings in the summertime at the Jefferson County property. Some of those residents are afraid that wedding business will be moved to the Park County property, partly because the Dunwodys have received a letter from Jefferson County Research Planning Analyst Gina Begly saying "the current use of the property as it relates to a wedding business is a non-conforming use."

But Vera Dunwody said, "It's not a wedding business." She said there is "no specificity" to the activities on their Jefferson County property. "We have social gatherings," she said.

However, at a Web site of the Dunwodys - www.lowerlakeranch.com - there are pictures of brides in wedding dresses and text that states "Imagine a waterfront wedding!"

Asked about that, Vera Dunwody said that the wedding business is "very little" of the total business they have on the Jefferson County property. She also said the Web site designer they were using has left the area, and they have another Web site, but it's not up yet.

Planning commission vote

The planning commission voted on Jan. 8 to recommend approval of the rezoning to Park County's Board of County Commissioners, which will hear the matter on Feb. 21. One of the commissioners, Leona Nelson, said that the Dunwodys said at the planning commission hearing that they would not move their wedding business from their Jefferson County property to the Park County property.

But Vera Dunwody said "They asked if we were going to host weddings."

She said their response was, "We weren't going to tell our clients what they could and could not do."

She said that, before they owned it, the property had weddings, birthday parties, family reunions, a bluegrass band that was out there last year and "any sort of social activity you can think of." And that's been gong on "for over 70 years" on the Park County property, she said.

"Whatever has been historically used on the property is what the intent is," she said.

"They've had meetings there at the lodge building a minimum of once a month in the last eight months," she said. Corporations have been having their annual corporate parties there "forever," she added.

"You ought to see it up here on Father's Day," she said. "They're having a blast. All out fishing."

Restrictions

The planning commission made its recommendation for rezoning approval to Park County's Board of County Commissioners conditional. The three conditions were that the only permitted uses would be agricultural, ranching and a guest ranch; the applicants could only repair, remodel or restore the existing structures represented by the applicants' submitted list of structures; and no substantial increase in use or occupancy would be permitted.

Vera Dunwody declined to comment on the conditions. She also said she didn't know how many activities the previous owners might have held in a time period, to establish a baseline with which to calculate "substantial increase."

Christine Groves, president of the Elk Falls Property Owners Association, previously told The Flume that Park County was not defining "substantial increase." She found that to be a problem.

Geri Salsig, a member of the planning commission, said she thought a residential development on eight-acre lots in the area would cause a greater negative impact on neighbors than a guest ranch. "A subdivision is a high-intensity use. We were quite flabbergasted that anybody would make that argument [that a subdivision would be preferable for neighbors]."

She cited the conditions that restrict use of the property. "They are limited to repairing those old buildings, which are there," she said. "They won't be able to expand that use."

The buildings have 15 rooms for overnight stays.

Another planning commissioner, Leona Nelson, earlier told The Flume that the Jan. 8 planning commission hearing was "full of objectors" to the Dunwodys' proposal, and the objectors "wanted to stay the status quo and that's in essence what we did."

She said that the pavilions that the Dunwodys plan to renovate "might bring in more traffic, but it would be sporadic."

Dick Hodges, president of Woodside Park Homeowners Association, Units 5 and 6, said that both Woodside Park HOAs supported the Dunwodys' proposal because of the open space it will preserve.

"I understand there are going to be group gatherings, family picnics," he said. However, he said, "I don't think you're going to see that many people over there every day."

He said he lives near the Dunwodys' Jefferson County property, where they have social gatherings. "I've never heard a sound out of there," he said.

That contrasts with Groves' viewpoint. "Currently we are subject to massive amounts of noise every weekend. Every summer weekend," Groves earlier told The Flume. "There's busloads of people that are having a really good time down there."

Groves argues that the Dunwodys have not satisfied a burden of proof showing that their proposed uses are compatible with the area, while the Dunwodys argue that their proposed uses are the same as they've been for the past 70 years there.

Hodges said that it was his understanding that the Dunwodys do not intend to move their wedding business from Jefferson County. But even if they did, it would not be enough to sway him against the proposal.

"I just think that open space is to your advantage, wherever you are," he said.

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