January 3, 2008

Longtime owners of Elk Falls Ranch apply for rezoning
"Reprinted courtesy of Evergreen Newspapers"

By Pamela Lawson

A rezoning application for Elk Falls Ranch in Shaffers Crossing goes before the planning commission Jan. 8. Pictured is an old lodge and restaurant on the property that might soon be restored by a couple hoping to buy the property.

The owners of a historic ranch in Shaffers Crossing that has served families and corporations as a sportsmen’s club for nearly 60 years are hoping to restore agricultural zoning status to make improvements to the ranch.

Elk Falls Ranch Development Co., which owns the 204-acre parcel, along with a family listed as co-applicants, is pursuing the rezoning application under the name Elk Falls Inc. The family, which owns 21 acres adjacent to the property, is under contract to buy it.

The applicants will present their case before the Park County Planning Commission on Jan. 8 in Fairplay.

“Our property was part of the original homestead,” said Vera Dunwody, who owns the bordering 21 acres. “We are putting it back together.”

Current zoning on the property is residential, according to a Park County zoning map, though it is unclear how or why it was ever changed from agricultural to residential in the first place.

But some neighbors in the nearby Elk Falls subdivision worry that the changes in zoning, which they call “back zoning,” could impact their property values. In the near future, Staunton State Park will open in that area with access to U.S. 285. Additional access to the park through the ranch would add unwanted traffic, a neighbor says.

Wendall Williams, president of the development company, said it has been planning to sell the property for 10 years, and residents who live there knew that.

By way of history, John Jensen purchased the 320-acre ranch in 1922 and later added acreage for a total of 2,200.

By the 1930s, one of Jensen’s daughters, Alice Berg, and her husband were in charge of the many picnics and recreational activities on the ranch, which included cabins, a lodge hall and a summer restaurant that served those guests. Even the Denver Athletic Club once used the cabins for summer camps.

In 1950 it became a private club open to members only. Eventually, a portion of the ranch was sold to build a subdivision around 1960, and later the Elk Falls Development Co. was formed. By the 1990s, about 1,600 acres of the ranch was sold to Denver Parks toward the eventual completion of Staunton State Park.

All that remains is the 204-acre parcel currently under contract.

A Park County development coordinator who sent a letter to Dunwody in November substantiated that the current uses, which include various indoor and outdoor recreational activities, predate Park County land use regulations.

However, the letter stated that the grandfathered provision does not apply to any substantial changes in use or activity. The letter states that major upgrades to buildings or new buildings that would increase total occupancy would constitute a substantial change requiring a conditional use permit to operate as a conference or retreat center.

Dunwody has heard a few theories about how the zoning might have inadvertently been changed from residential to agricultural in the first place, but the owners of the ranch say they have never filed an application officially changing the status, and the county has no record of it, she said.

Even so, the applicants hope to tidy up the issue to move forward on restoration of an old lodge on the land, among other improvements.

The Dunwodys hope in the future to pursue ways to add it to the national register of historical places, and they hope to restore the guest ranch that once operated there, she said — plans that Dunwody describes as “long term.”

“We are trying to do what we had always planned on doing — they told us years ago they were going to sell it, and we said, ‘Let us know,’ because we wanted to keep it preserved.”

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