EAGLE COUNTY — A popular cycling route and road to U.S. Forest Service property may be paved as part of a plan for a ranch north of Edwards. But it could be years before a final decision is made.
The owners of Berliamont Estates in 2010 asked the Eagle County commissioners for a variance from the county’s road standards in order to build a paved road to the 630-acre ranch, which is surrounded by U.S. Forest Service property. That proposal failed, in large part because commissioners at the time wanted a second road to the property to ensure the safety of homeowners.
The property owners said the request for the second road was essentially impossible. First, a second road in the hilly terrain would be very expensive. More important, though, owners’ representatives at the time said they’d been told by Forest Service officials they wouldn’t give permission to build a new road to the property through public land.
What’s the same this time around
That Forest Service stance hasn’t changed, and now the proposal for a variance is back, in essentially the same form. What hasn’t changed is a proposal to pave about five miles of road that runs through Forest Service land to the ranch. That road is a popular mountain-biking route and is also used by hunters and hikers.
The road proposal is the only county approval needed for the property. State law states that parcels of 35 acres or more don’t need anything but county-issued building permits to start work.
The more complex part of the plan comes through the Forest Service. That agency has long granted road access to private property surrounded by public land, but requires proposals for improvements to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act.
Changes from previous plan
All of this means that development of the property — which was first homesteaded in the 1930s — depends on the property owners getting approval for road improvements.
Ben Gerdes, the county engineer responsible for the Berliamont Estates proposal, said while the road plan is similar to the 2010 request, there are some important changes. Perhaps the most significant of those changes regard the property’s susceptibility to wildfires. Gerdes said the property owners have worked with both private consultants and county wildfire mitigation officer Eric Lovgren on plans to make the property safer in case of a fire.
Those plans include a proposal to create more “defensible space” around buildings than current county regulations require.
Avon-based land planner Dominic Mauriello, who wasn’t involved in the 2010 proposal, added that the current proposal also calls for fewer “accessory” units on the property, and the project will require the homes to be built with fire resistance as a top priority.
Mauriello said current plans for the property call for home construction that would allow residents to “shelter in place” in case of a fire. Plans also include new, unpaved roads between units so fire trucks can move around the ranch. New plans also call for a pond helicopters can use to fill water tanks when fighting fires.
“We’ve looked at (the property) in a different light,” he said.
Too Soon for cyclists to decide
If the road improvements are eventually approved — something that could possibly take years — Mauriello said there will still be public access through the ranch and to other trails. But if the road is eventually widened and paved, it could mean a big change to a popular mountain-biking and hiking route.
Jamie Malin is a board member of the Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association. He said while the proposal for the road bears watching, it’s simply too soon to tell what the ultimate effect of a paved road might be.
Mauriello said there will still be access to other, unpaved trails and that the relatively steep road could actually create some new riding areas for road cyclists.
“It’s an interesting concept,” Malin said. “Does it actually create more opportunities (for cyclists)? It’s too soon to tell. We’re going to follow this closely.”
“It’s an interesting concept. Does it actually create more opportunities (for cyclists)? It’s too soon to tell. We’re going to follow this closely.”
Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association board member