May 1, 2009

 

Lower Lake Ranch at Elk Falls could be rezoned

Mike Potter
Staff Writer

The original banquet hall building at the Lower Lake Ranch at Elk Falls overlooks three ponds. (Flume file photo by Wendy Grumet/The Flume)

Lower Lake Ranch at Elk Falls near Pine Junction in northeastern Park County is one step away from securing a rezoning from a zoned residential district to agriculture.

The Park County Planning Commission voted 4-1 on April 14 in favor of recommending approval of the rezoning application, with conditions, to Park County's commissioners.

The sole dissenting vote on the Planning Commission was from Chairman Kent Kalb, who could not be reached for comment.

The rezoning from residential to agriculture would permit the land to be used for "ranching, aquaculture, community wastewater system, green house, guest house, riding arena (indoor and outdoor) and guest ranch," according to a Planning Commission resolution.

Geri Salsig, a member of the planning commission, said the board approved the rezoning with conditions because it felt the owners, Drayton and Vera Dunwody, had a valid argument for the rezoning.

"Whatever the evidence was that was presented, it was compelling enough that made us feel like we would vote for it," she said.

The Dunwodys closed on the purchase of the 206-acre Elk Falls Sportsmen's Ranch in a $2.1 million deal that closed on Jan. 21, 2008. It is adjacent to the Elk Falls Ranch subdivision.

The rezoning applies to that 206-acre tract of land, which is in Park County. The couple owns 21 acres in Jefferson County, and they filed a rezoning application for that parcel in Jefferson County on March 17.

The Dunwodys could not be reached for comment, but they applied last year to rezone the Park County land.

They withdrew the application after the Planning Commission had recommended it, and after the county commissioners began discussing it on April 24, 2008. But the withdrawal came before the county commissioners ever reached a decision.

The Dunwodys declined to reveal the reason for the withdrawal.

The conditions that accompany the Planning Commission's recommendation for approval include compliance with county noise levels and a mandate that all structures shall be brought into conformance with the current fire code.

Opposition

The Elk Falls Property Owners Association has opposed the rezoning, and it submitting a document to the Park County Planning Department with a list of concerns about possible impacts on the way of life in the area, including noise levels from parties hosted at the ranch.

Renae Braun, treasurer of the Elk Falls Property Owners Association, declined to comment, referring all questions to the president of the property owners association.

The president, David Crespo, said property owners are concerned about the ability for Lower Lake Ranch to host an unlimited number of events, with no limit on how many people attend. A condition for approval cited in a March 23 planning department staff report for the rezoning application stipulated that "outdoor events over 75 guests must have an approved Park County Outdoor Event Permit."

Crestpo said that recommendation was removed from the April 14 conditions list.

Along with the disruption of a number of guests staying at the ranch for events, he said, another fear of the homeowners is that a restaurant could be opened on the property through a loophole in the zoning.

The Dunwodys have applied to utilize a lodge for serving food for ranch guests. He said the property owners could require a small cover charge for guests not necessarily staying at the ranch overnight but who could be considered "guests" eating at the lodge.

"A future owner could charge a nominal guest ranch fee and open it and sell food to anyone they wanted," he said. "That puts a potential restaurant right in the middle of our neighborhood."

He said the opening of the Staunton State Park close to the subdivision could make the restaurant idea more plausible.

There is also concern about the Dunwodys using a public road that the property owners association maintains.

He said he wished the planning commission would have come to the area to look at the possible impacts the rezoning would create, rather than looking at them from concept maps.

"I think it really drives home that this zoning could potentially make challenges for the neighborhood," he said.

The property owners association isn't opposed to the business or the Dunwodys, he said. It takes exception to the zoning change.

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