The plume of white steam sent up by the wallboard factory every morning pinpoints the one large-scale, industrial factory in the valley. Given the town’s distance from the county’s famous ski slopes, property prices are enough lower to lure everyday working people, including teachers, construction workers, sheriff’s deputies and ski resort employees who commute upvalley.
Gypsum’s working-class image even is acknowledged in the town’s official vision statement, outlined in the community master plan, declaring the intent of the community to preserve the town as a “good place for the working class to find an affordable place to live and raise a family.” So how does a proposal for a golf course and second-homes community located 4 miles up the Gypsum Creek Valley on land already annexed into the town fit in with the working class scheme?
That’s a question local leaders and townspeople have been mulling as they watch the progress of “Valagua,” a development of 535 residential units with 27 holes of golf on 936 acres of what is now the Albertson Ranch. The development stretches across both sides of Valley Road.
Developer Russ Hatle says Valagua will offer a living experience different from the gated, trophy-home communities that are popular elsewhere, and will attract a different type of second-home owner. Town officials see benefits, particularly in the acquisition of a much-needed senior water right and the collection of some additional taxes.
But reactions from townspeople are mixed. There’s some skepticism about a development that was first proposed five years ago but has yet to turn a shovel of dirt. Some locals see potential economic opportunity in the development;more than a few, however, express regret about a one-time ranch being turned into a residential area.
“I think I’ve got to wait and see. I’ve heard about it so long, I don’t know if it is ever going to happen,” says Gene Slaughter, 55, a lifelong resident of the Gypsum Creek Valley.
The Slaughter family homesteaded in the valley in 1890 and still holds 160 acres of what was once a several-thousand-acre ranch.
Since the town annexed the property in 1997, there have been several development proposals for the land, but somehow the plans and the finances never came together.
Hatle’s Imprimis Corporation, based in Palm Desert, Calif., has developed other golf course communities. In March 2000, the company gained sketch-plan approval for the project. Since that time, the developers have been working with the town staff on a number of requested changes. The preliminary plan is now in the town’s review process.
Hatle says the development will appeal to grandparent-aged baby boomers who will appreciate Gypsum’s small-town atmosphere and who are looking for an outdoor, rural feel away from the hustle and bustle of a resort. He expects the community to appeal to people who like a rural atmosphere, as well as fishing, hiking and the feel of living on the edge of a wilderness.
“We’re not trying to be Vail, Beaver Creek, or Cordillera. … We’re not going to appeal to buyers who want a time-share, the Ritz-Carlton and 18,000 people in the village,” he says.
Valagua’s location will offer both small-town atmosphere and some big-city attributes, Hatle adds, citing convenient access to the Eagle County Regional Airport and proximity to upvalley resorts with their restaurants and entertainment.
Gary Hollandsworth, a longtime Gypsum resident, says he has mixed feelings about the development. As a contractor, he says he likes the opportunity for construction work at Valagua; on the other hand, he says he has a fondness for the beauty of the undeveloped valley.
“It is a gorgeous place. I have trouble with the development going in all the pretty places,” he says.
Art Davenport, 81, lives in the same Gypsum house in which he was born. He says he knows the historic roots of the Albertson Ranch, which was homesteaded by the Doll family, who raised thoroughbred race horses on the property. Davenport also says he remembers when the land – called “the big ranch” by locals – was a place where cattle, hay, potatoes and grains were raised.
Regarding future development of the ranch, Davenport said he has the same feelings he experienced when his grandfather’s old place was developed into Cotton Ranch, a golf course and residential community.
“I didn’t like it,” says Davenport. “I would much rather see it as a ranch. But I have no choice in the matter.”
Hatle says he anticipates a mixed reaction from locals.
“In every community you will find people who will think something like this is a great idea and some will think it is terrible,” he says. “We each have our own perspectives.”
Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll says the subdivision is a deal for water rights that would make the town’s water service secure well into the future.
“This is a water-rights deal. It’s not “Proper Planning 101′,” says Shroll. Many communities encourage in-fill development and new projects adjacent to town before approving projects further out.
Shroll, meanwhile, says Valagua won’t jeopardize the character of the community.
“If anything, it allows us to showcase the town a little – you have to drive through the community to get to your trophy home 4 miles up Gypsum Creek,” he says Shroll, adding that in recent years the town has exacted contributions to the community from new development.
“A lot is done through impact fees. Albertson Ranch is not going to impact the schools, town parks or recreation, yet they are contributing to all those things,” Shroll says. “That’s a positive aspect.”
Hatle, meanwhile, says even part-time residents tend to take on the color of a community.
“Once people get a place here, like the country, and feel a part of it, then they can get concerned about growth, traffic and all the issues,” he says. “Sometimes that’s positive, and sometimes that’s negative.”
Hatle says second-home owners are often benefactors to their part-time communities, donating money for hospitals, arts programs and other community needs.
The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments is studying impacts of second homes. Eagle, Summit, Pitkin and Grand counties are participating in the study, which will shed some light on the social and economic impacts of second-home communities. Many resort communities, where the majority of the residential units are second homes, are experiencing problems with a loss of economic vitality, demands for service and the lack of people to serve on boards, commissions and civic organizations. There’s also a concern high-end second homes would drive property values so high core community workers wouldn’t be able to afford to live in the area. Results of the study will be available in about three months.
“We don’t really know how much (second-home development) affects Gypsum,” says Town Planner Ken Long.
Long says there are already a number of second-home owners at Cotton Ranch. He says the people who invest in second homes in Gypsum won’t be generating the same need for nannies, cooks and butler-types second their peers upvalley may seek.
Will Valagua happen?
Hatle says the second-home market has not been particularly slowed by the nation’s recent economic downturn. As the baby boomers reach retirement age, he predicts demand will continue.
He says Valagua will offer a product different than what is available elsewhere in the county, maintaining Valagua’s private-community concept will not compete with what is being offered at Eagle Ranch or Cotton Ranch.
Hatle says development is a fact in Gypsum Creek’s future.
“The demand will be there. It is just too nice of a place,” he says.
Gypsum Town Planner Ken Long says he thinks the beauty of the valley will attract second-home buyers, even though the project is not generating a lot of comment from local residents.
“Gypsum is not the same place it used to be. I still see some of the old timers that live in town,” adds Slaughter. “But some people I was raised with are gone. We have stoplights and stores. A lot of this is good. It’s part of change. (But) you wonder where it’s going to end up.”
This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.