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Wrong project in wrong place

Andy Wiessner

While we’re all busy focusing on family and friends this holiday season, Florida developer Bobby Ginn has finally filed his application to build a massive new development on high altitude, remote, and pristine land in the middle of the White River National Forest. Ginn’s proposal would: 1) bypass state and county regulation; 2) disenfranchise the 46,000 Eagle County residents who don’t live in Minturn; and 3) put the tiny town of Minturn in control of his entire 8.5 square mile private ski and golf “club” – even though the issues involved impact the entire county. This is no small potatoes subdivision, mind you! To make money, Ginn’s development needs to be HUGE, and that’s exactly what he’s proposing – 12 times more housing and other development than the county zoning and master plan allows.The core of Ginn’s proposal is a mountaintop city of 700 homes, hotel(s), clubs, restaurants, shops, roads, parking lots, sewer systems, fire station(s), medical facilities, cars, trucks and who knows what else on the summit of Battle Mountain. Average elevation: 10,500 feet – 250 feet higher than the top of the Eagle’s Nest gondola, and almost 500 feet higher than mid-Vail! Think of the infrastructure involved to house, feed and entertain a city of 3,000-4,000 people at that elevation! With the exception of Leadville, it will be the largest single high-altitude development in U.S. history! Getting up there is not easy! You’ll either take a two-plus mile-long gondola, or drive five miles above Minturn on State Highway 24, turn left shortly before Red Cliff, and then take another 4four-five mile road, the first part switch-backing over extremely steep slopes. Mr. Ginn says his gondola will greatly reduce traffic on the access road, but you simply can’t supply thousands of people, and service 700 homes, hotels, etc., with a gondola! Who’s Ginn kidding? This isn’t Florida! At times the weather may shut off all access – gondola or otherwise – to his mountaintop city. At a minimum, the project will add hundreds, if not thousands, of car trips on Highway 24 each day. Delivery trucks, service vehicles, construction and maintenance workers, employees, club members, and guests. Oh, yes. Almost as an after-thought, Ginn is proposing a second – and even bigger – “village” with 1,000 more units, golf courses and other facilities. It will be located at a sensible altitude 2300 feet lower down, on the outskirts of Minturn. The total development – mountain and valley – will be able to sleep between 7,000-10,000 people. But Mr. Ginn says he will do it without changing the “small-town character” of Minturn! From the outset, we must remember that CHANGING THE ZONING TO ACCOMMODATE GINN IS NOT A FAIRNESS OR PROPERTY RIGHTS ISSUE! Ginn bought the property knowing full well that Colorado and Eagle County zoning laws give him the right to build 151 houses, and maybe a golf course, on his land. But Ginn’s a gambler. He knows he can’t maximize profits under state and county land regulations, so he’s asking the government of Minturn to bypass the state and county and grant him an “upzoning” 12 times more than the state and county regulations provide. A massive government zoning subsidy – or corporate welfare, if you will. However, it’s not a subsidy for the public benefit. Ginn’s development will be a private club where the ski lifts, trails, golf courses, restaurants and other facilities will be “members only!” “Ginn-turn,” as it’s being called, will not enhance our quality of life or the visitor’s experience in Eagle County one bit because it will be closed to the public. Right next door, but a gated world apart! Now, there’s a reason state law and Eagle County zoning allocates land like Mr. Ginn’s, and especially the land above 10,000 feet, to just one house per 35 acres. Such land is environmentally fragile, hard to access, difficult to service, rich in wildlife habitat, and lacking in easily developed water. In addition, the Ginn property is partially visible from Vail’s back bowls, directly faces the most heavily used portion of the Holy Cross Wilderness, and lies smack dab in the middle of one of the most remote, wild and environmentally significant areas of our county. Developing it will lower the water table and flows of the Eagle River, dramatically increase traffic on Highway 24, pollute the night skyline with thousands of lights, visually impact Vail’s back bowls and the Holy Cross Wilderness, wreak havoc with wildlife and wildlife migration, increase air pollution, intrude into the White River National Forest, and further fuel runaway population growth in our County. These are all issues of countywide concern, and should not be determined solely by the town of Minturn.And what does Minturn get from all this? More traffic, congestion and crowding along the Eagle River. Widening of Highway 24. Increased property taxes. Study after study reveals that residential projects like “Ginn-turn” seldom pay their way in taxes, and, therefore, lead to large property tax increases. In addition, it won’t be Eagle County residents who buy the bulk of Ginn’s high-end housing units and accompanying club memberships. Ginn’s affluent, out-of-state clientele will soon dominate the Minturn real estate market, driving prices beyond the reach of most locals. Like Aspen, Vail, and numerous other resort towns before it, Minturn will become a community of wealthy, part-time homeowners. The working people will gradually move downvalley. Minturn will be a tourist town for a few months a year, and a ghost town in the off-season. However, in this case, the “off” season will be longer, because almost half Ginn’s housing units (3,000-4,000 beds) will be above 10,500 feet, and it’s simply not nice up there most of the year. Many of his “flat-lander” clients will be unpleasantly surprised when they try to live at 10,500 feet! It’s simply too high!Some local businesses in Minturn may benefit during the peak tourist season, but, long term, Ginn will either buy them out to eliminate competition or try to steer his clients to his club facilities, his restaurants, his stores and his boutiques. After all, he’s ultimately in business to make money for Ginn Resorts, not Minturn merchants! About the best that can be said for this questionable project is that Mr. Ginn has hired some very nice local people, including Clif Thompson and former County Commissioner Mike Gallagher, to represent him. The project will also create construction and service jobs. But does our county, one of the fastest-growing in the nation, need even more jobs like this right now? Or 7,000 to 10,000 more private beds? Public policy decisions should not be based on personalities or job opportunities alone, and by every other measure the Ginn proposal fails miserably. BOTTOM LINE. Ginn’s development is the wrong project (requiring a massive zoning change), in the wrong location (at an inappropriately high altitude), and with the wrong purpose (exclusivity and elitism). Why should government bust our zoning and the Eagle County Master Plan AND damage our environment to facilitate a high altitude club that is closed to the public? Because 10 square miles of the finest skiing in North America at Vail and Beaver Creek isn’t good enough for Mr. Ginn’s clientele? Because Mr. Ginn wants to maximize his profits? Because Mr. Ginn wants to bring his Florida “super-club” formula to Colorado and thinks he’s entitled to far more zoning density than our master plan envisions? WHAT YOU CAN DO: If you agree that government shouldn’t change our zoning to give Mr. Ginn everything he wants, especially on his land above 10,000 feet, you can become involved by doing the following:1. Contact our county commissioners and express your concern over the size and purpose of Mr. Ginn’s proposal, AND that Mr. Ginn wants to prevent you from having any say in this matter, unless you live in Minturn. 2. Contact members of the Minturn Town Council and express your concerns to them.3. A non-profit group, Friends of Battle Mountain, is being formed by local concerned citizens to oppose the Ginn development in its current form. A steering committee, staff and local office will be finalized in the near future. In the interim, if you would like to become involved in this effort, please contact me at wiessner@vail.net or at 390-9466.Andy Wiessner of Vail is a public lands specialist and local conservation activist. Editor’s note: To be clear, municipal annexation is a legal, even normal, course for development large and small. There are several examples in Eagle County alone.Vail, Colorado


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