County says transfer of density is complex; developers say "Chihuahua’ land swap and rezoning is simple | VailDaily.com
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County says transfer of density is complex; developers say "Chihuahua’ land swap and rezoning is simple

Christine McManus

DILLON – After more than three years of government meetings, attorney John Wood refuses to let go of his mission to trade the backcountry Chihuahua townsite in Summit County for U.S. Forest Service land near Keystone.

Land swaps with the Forest Service take years, if they are successful at all. After several attempted negotiations, Wood and landowner Gary Miller of Keystone say they have a preliminary, tentative endorsement from Forest Service officials to move ahead.

Neighboring landowners have hired attorneys, who are challenging development in their neck of the woods. They question whether Wood and his partners even own Chihuahua.

Developers discussed their mission with county officials a recent meeting of the Snake River Planning Commission in Dillon. Forest Service ranger Paul Semmer reported that the agency is indeed reviewing whether the land exchange is appropriate.

Major questions about the transfer of remain, said Summit County planner Lindsay Hirsh and Assistant County Attorney Dan Teodoru.

Miller and his partners from Atlanta want to build 42 homes – not in the undeveloped backcountry townsite of Chihuahua – but on 21 acres of Forest Service land near Keystone Ski Resort. The 21-acre site currently is covered by a thick forest of lodgepole pines, less than a mile east of the River Run Gondola.

Rather than waiting years for the Forest Service land swap, and then waiting months for county planning efforts, Wood is trying to do both simultaneously.

To save time and money, the residential developers are asking Summit County for a rezoning of the 21-acre site near the end of Independence Road, off Montezuma Road back beyond Keystone.

Wood said the historic, undeveloped townsite of Chihuahua located near Montezuma was once platted for about 400 homes in the late 1800s. Realistically, Wood said, about 250 homes today would fit. Most of Chihuahua burned in the late 1880s.

But there’s no nearby sewer treatment options, or other utility connections, as required, much less a town development code, Hirsh said.

County officials are also questioning whether Chihuahua has the full development rights it claims to have. Backcountry zoning typically allows one to two houses per 40 acres.

“Boiled down, the two main points of the Summit County master plan are to move density out of the backcountry and to build in areas with existing development and services,” Wood said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Any rezoning of the 21-acres is contingent upon the Forest Service deal.

Snake River commissioners said they wanted to be sure the county planners’ questions are answered before they vote on whether to recommend that the Summit County Board of County Commissioners approve a rezoning of the 21 acres, that is, if the land exchange happens.

Residents and Keystone area business people who favor an approval of the land swap said they don’t want to see Chihuahua developed. People hike, bike, picnic and cross country ski in the undeveloped forest clearing.


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