January 18, 2008

Rezoning opponents surprised by commission’s decision
In separate, Guffey rezoning, church says it didn’t know date

By Tom Locke

The unanimous vote of the Park County Planning Commission recommending approval of the proposed rezoning of 200 acres north of Pine Junction has shocked opponents of the rezoning, according to Christine Groves, president of the Elk Falls Property Owers Association, which represents about 144 homes nearby.

She said that more than 140 people have signed a petition opposing the rezoning and more than 25 people testified against it at a Jan. 8 hearing before the Planning Commission.

At the Jan. 8 hearing, the Planning Commission recommended approval to the Board of County Commissioners for a rezoning from Residential to Agricultural of a parcel of  about 200 acres known as the Elk Falls Sportsman Ranch. The property is adjacent to the Elk Falls Ranch subdivision in northeast Park County.

Vera and Drayton Dunwody are in the process of buying the property to use as a guest ranch. They plan to restore or repair several historical cabins, a barn, a lodge and two pavilions.

In a follow-up call from The Flume, Vera Dunwody declined to comment on any aspect of the application or hearing.

The ranch was historically used as a guest ranch in the early 1900s. At that time, it was much larger. Part of the property known as the Upper Lake is now part of Staunton State Park.

The subdivision was also part of the original ranch.

Elk Falls Parcel

The Elk Falls parcel is roughly 200 acres that is targeted for rezoning to agricultural, for use as a guest ranch, is outlined above. It is west of the Park County-Jefferson County line and east of Lions Head, and east and slightly north of Pin Junction. (Map courtesy of the Park County Planning Department.)

The Sportsmen’s Club has used the current parcel for a private membership club since the 1960s. The club has used it for hiking, fishing, and horseback riding. Members of the club,  residents of Elk Falls Ranch subdivision and other groups have rented it for various activities.

The Elk Falls Ranch Property Owners Association opposed the rezoning for several reasons. Most residents testifying said they wanted it to remain residential and subdivided, saying that homes would have less impact on the residents than a guest ranch. They were concerned about increased noise and traffic as well as fire danger. Some were concerned about other permitted uses and conditional uses that are possible in an agricultural zone, such as a conference center or shooting range. Both are conditional uses.

Some testified that they would prefer it remain as a recreation facility, with most of the property open space. Both Woodside Park Homeowners Associations supported the rezoning to agricultural. Woodside Park is adjacent to the west side of the property.

“I think the planning commission really tried to do their job. I think there were a lot more facts brought out [at the hearing],” Groves told The Flume.

Three conditions were placed on the recommendation for approval. They are:

  1. The only permitted uses associated with this rezoning are Agricultural, Ranching and a Guest Ranch.

  2. The applicant can only repair, remodel, or restore the existing structures represented by the applicants’ submitted list of structures.

  3. No substantial increase in use or occupancy.

Those conditions were not enough to satisfy neighboring homeowners, according to Groves. They don’t want potentially smelly livestock nearby, and Park County is not defining “substantial increase in use,” she said. The estimated 27 average trips per day that are projected under the application would constitute a substantial increase, because right now only six people are living in three cabins on the property, she said.

Plus, she said, the 27 trips per day don’t include the potential for 280 people per day to travel to the two picnic grounds on the property. Residents worry that the traffic will disturb the peace of the area and also increase road maintenance costs for the property owners association.

The average value of a home in the development is $320,000, she said, and homeowners are concerned about the effect on their property values if a guest ranch is created nearby.

“We’re over $44 million in homes in this particular neighborhood,” said Groves. “I think this is significant. That we need to be heard.”

She also argues that the Dunwody’s wedding business on nearby land in Jefferson County already creates noise problems for the Elk Falls residents in the summer, and she cites a Dec. 24, 2007, letter from Jefferson County’s Gina Begley to the Dunwodys that states that “the current use of the property as it relates to a wedding business is a non-conforming use.”

Vera Dunwody declined to comment on the letter.

The Elk Falls homeowners are hopeful of a different result when they present their arguments to the county commissioners on Feb. 21.

“We hope the commissioners will preserve the peace, tranquility, and the property values of the many and not just the financial gains of the one,” Groves said.

Planning commission member Leona Nelson said she believes there will be less noise and traffic with the guest ranch use than there would be if the acreage was developed for homes on eight-acre lots, which would be permissible under the current zoning. “The room was full of objectors, and it was amazing to me. They wanted to stay [with] the status quo, and that’s in essence what we did,” Nelson said.

She said she didn’t believe the guest ranch use, with the existing buildings, would generate 27 more trips per day. She also said that the Dunwodys said that they would not move their wedding business to the Park County property, a move that some neighbors have feared, she said.

“We can’t deprive people of the best use of their property unless it’s in direct violation of the land use regulations,” Nelson said.

Guffey land rezoning not recommended

At the same Jan. 8 meeting, the Planning Commission recommended denial of a rezoning from Residential to Agricultural of an approximately 206-acre parcel in Soda Springs Ranch adjacent to the town of Guffey.  The property is owned by Ralston Hills Baptist Church in Arvada.

The resolution recommending denial stated the applicant failed to appear or prove its burden of proof.

Sergey Yevdokimov, the church administrator, told The Flume in a later interview that the church did not receive notice of the meeting until the day of the meeting.

“Nobody inform us about planning commission at this date [Jan. 8],” he said. That day he was sick and not at work, and the planning commission failed to reach anyone with the church despite numerous attempts.

Park County Development Services Coordinator Tom Eisenman disagreed with the idea that the church did not receive notice.

“Mr. Yevdokimov is incorrect! The meeting is posted in The Flume as well,” he said in an e-mail.

Eisenman said his contact person has been Alex Orekhov, not Sergey Yevdokimov.

The hearing on the Guffey land, which the church proposes to use for a conference and retreat facility, was originally scheduled for 9 a.m., but the commission kept postponing it in hopes that someone from the church could be reached to make an appearance, said Geri Salsig, a member of the Planning Commission and resident of Guffey. It has been her understanding that the group knew of the date of the planning commission meeting. “It’s always the second Tuesday of the month,” she said.

Yevdokimov said that the hearing kept getting postponed, starting in July, mainly because the planning department needed more information, and then in December it was postponed because of weather. He said the church had previously received letters informing it of new meeting dates, but that didn’t happen for the January meeting.

Salsig said there has been frustration in the Planning Department trying to get the church’s application presentable. The Planning Commission’s decision to recomend against rezoning, which came after comment from opponents in the Guffey area, “had nothing to do with the fact that they didn’t show up,” Salsig said.

“It was the opinion of the planning commission that it was inappropriate to rezone this from R-20 to agricultural,” she said.

She noted that the surrounding properties are residential or rural overlay districts designed for residential and commercial use. Plus, she said, the fire department is not equipped to handle the potential dangers for a large group of people on that property.

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