Power play is just beginning | VailDaily.com

Power play is just beginning

Andy Wiessner

Watch out, Eagle County. A shrewd political power play may be in the works to take the largest single development project in county history out of the county’s hands!The project I’m talking about is a Florida developer “Bobby” Ginn’s proposal for an 8.3 square mile, 5,300-acre development with 1.500-3,000 homes, a private ski area, golf course, clubs, spas, restaurants and other private facilities. It would be located on Battle Mountain above Two Elk Creek, and near the towns of Minturn and Red Cliff. Most facilities, including the new ski area, would be “members only” admission. A few slots may be available to the general public.Under Colorado law and the Eagle County Master Plan, this mostly wild, remote and highly scenic 5,300 acre property is currently rightfully zoned for a density of one house per 35 acres – or only 151 houses. That’s right, 151 homes. Although full details are not yet known, the developer will be asking for a rezoning of 10-20 times, maybe even 30 times, the current zoning density, and for a golf course and private ski area to boot! But here’s the kicker: The developer is proposing, and the town of Minturn has just voted, to begin the process of annexing the ENTIRE development into to the Ttown of Minturn – leaving the rest of the county and its residents without little or no voice in how the project will proceed. If the annexation is successful, the county will lose most of its control over the project. County residents who don’t live in Minturn will be left appealing to just seven people (the Minturn Town Council) who we can’t vote for and who, therefore, have no reason to be accountable to us. Clever thinkers, those developers. I don’t blame the town of Minturn at all for wanting to control its own destiny. It feels it has been slighted by the county in the past. But the issues raised by this development are such huge countywide issues that the rest of us deserve a say in the process. There are so many problems with this development proposal that it’s hard to know where to begin. The following are a few major problems and concerns:Vail’s Back Bowls: Part of Mr. Ginn’s property on Battle Mountain is visible from Vail’s Back Bowls. It lies less than three miles south of Chair 5. I can see the ads now. “Location, location, location … only 15 lots with exclusive views of Vail’s Back Bowls.” Will the developer agree to a permanent easement that no houses, roads, lifts or other facilities would ever be constructed that could be seen from the Back Bowls? Or will our future Back Bowl experience include gazing out on Mr. Ginn’s housing project?Ski link to Vail Mountain: The developer says he has “no intention” of ever trying to link his private ski area into Vail Mountain and the Back Bowls. He mentioned something about a “covenant,” but a member of the public pointed out that covenants are not necessarily permanent. Incidentally, a tie-in to Vail would only benefit Mr. Ginn’s club members. They could ski over to Vail and use our mountain. We couldn’t go the other way unless we were belonged to the club. Would Mr. Ginn agree to a permanent easement preventing his private ski area from ever linking up with Vail Mountain?Private Club: Mr. Ginn is asking us to amend Colorado law and throw out the County Master Plan – all to massively “up-zone” his property in order to accommodate a “members only” club, ski area and 1,500-3,000 homes. What would that do to the county’s reputation nationwide? Do we need another gated community, private spas, restaurants, golf course and ski area? Wildlife values: The Gilman property is one of the most wildlife rich areas in the county. It is lynx habitat, and part of a critical wildlife migration corridor linking Shrine Pass, Vail Mountain, Two Elk Creek, the Holy Cross Wilderness, and beyond. It is rugged, rural and remote, and that’s why it’s logically zoned for only one house per 35 acres – or a little more than 100 houses on east side of Highway 24. Yet Mr. Ginn told us that he plans 500-600 houses on the ski mountain above Gilman, a density five, six times greater than current zoning. Not just houses, but access roads, utility lines, ski lifts, ski trails and dogs owned by the 500-600 new homeowners that can chase and harrass wildlife. Bye, bye wildlife. Moreover, most of the land on the mountain lies above 10,000 feet. Get out your oxygen tanks. We’re busting zoning for this? Why do they need 500-600 houses on top of the ski mountain? Lucrative real estate sales, that’s why!Wilderness impacts: No matter how they configure this development, it lies directly across the valley from the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, and some of it (at Bolt’s Lake) would be immediately adjacent to the wilderness boundary. If you hike Cross Creek, Fall Creek, Half Moon Pass, Notch Mountain or numerous other trails and backcountry, this development will be in your face. Ditto if you use the Tigiwon Road or Tigiwon or Half Moon campgrounds. It’s not Mr. Ginn’s fault; it’s just the lay of the land. But one thing is for sure. The 151 houses allowed under current law will have much less of a visual impact on the Wilderness than 1,500-3,000 homes, 500-600 of which would be high on Battle Mountain if Mr. Ginn gets his rezoning.Traffic/road congestion: It is likely that at least 700 homes would be built above the switchbacks you first hit heading out of Minturn towards Red Cliff. That’s a lot of new traffic. Mr. Ginn has “experts” studying the situation, but I’d predict at least three lanes there in the future if his development goes ahead. But heck, that’s “progress.” We love more lanes!The bottom line is that Mr. Ginn is asking us to change state law and the current zoning to grant his land a massive “up-zoning” to accommodate a new PRIVATE club and development. He’s proposing the largest single development in county history in an area where only 151 houses would currently be allowed, and where the impacts on wildlife, wilderness, water use, traffic and Vail’s back bowls could be devastating. AND, Mr. Ginn is proposing to take most of us out of the process by annexing the land into the town of Minturn. Mr. Ginn bought this land in high elevation, wildlife rich habitat knowing full well he was entitled to only 151 houses by law, but he’s gambling that a sympathetic local town will give him much more. We have a choice. Show a developer than our zoning and master plan means something, or roll over and play dead. History indicates we usually do the latter. Is that our future, too? Andy Wiessner is a public lands consultant and local environmental/ land conservation activist. Vail, Colorado

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