WOLF CREEK, Colo. — With the recent U.S. Forest Service approval of the “Application for Transportation and Utility Systems and Facilities for the Village at Wolf Creek Final Environmental Impact Statement,” the Village at Wolf Creek is one step closer to becoming a reality.
In 2004, Mineral County approved the Village at Wolf Creek final development plan, approval that was later revoked on the grounds of insufficient year-round access by 12th District Judge O. John Kuenhold. In his decision, Kuenhold called Mineral County’s approval of the final plan, “an arbitrary and capricious exercise of authority,” and said the county’s approval “misconstrued state statute and Mineral County subdivision regulations.”
As part of the ruling, Kuenhold decreed that once the developer obtained adequate year-round access and received a Colorado Department of Transportation permit to access U.S. 160, they could seek re-approval of their final plan from Mineral County.
With the EIS complete, step one of Kuenhold’s mandate is essentially complete.
According to the EIS, year-round access, and the main access point to the village, will be provided by the construction of a new 750-foot road called Snowshed Road. The second access point is a 250-foot extension to the existing Tranquility Road, which will provide access between the ski area and the village. The Wolf Creek Ski Corporation will pay to complete the 250-foot Tranquility Road extension, in spite of the fact that they are involved in litigation with the developer of the Village.
At an April 7 forum in Creede, president of the Village at Wolf Creek, Bob Honts, estimated that the Snowshed Road would cost the developers an additional $10 million. Honts also stated that the NEPA process and EIS cost the Village $2.5 million.
Honts suggested that construction could begin as soon as the 90- day appeals and rebuttal process for the EIS is complete. According to Kuenhold’s order, the developers will also need to have an access permit from Highway 160 from CDOT. “We’ve already begun working on that,” Honts said. “At that point we will come back to the county and ask for access and approval on the plat. Obviously these will require quite a bit of time.”
Honts and McCombs had clearly been provided all questions beforehand and came to the forum with charts, graphs and an outline of their legal case defending the village. Opponents of the village were either not invited or chose not to attend the forum. In a press release dated April 4, Colorado State Representative Mark Larson (R-Cortez) said, “This ostensibly unbiased forum is a sham. The Upper Rio Grande Economic Development Council (URGEDC) hosting this forum has already come out in favor of the Village, is stacking the participant list to promote the village, and has refused to address numerous biases in how the forum would be carried out.”
“A one-sided forum is not an appropriate venue to address the public’s concerns about the village,” stated state Sen. Jim Isgar (D-Durango). “There are important issues related to the village that need to be addressed fairly and openly.”
URGEDC President Jon Boyd facilitated the forum. Vice president Dusty Hicks, a paid consultant for the village, did not sit on the panel. URGEDC members said that it was unfortunate all opponents to the development declined to attend and that Colorado Wild had not been invited because they were not an owner or public agency involved in the decision making process. All questions were presented in writing and went through the URGEDC board.
No political statements were allowed. The URGEDC claimed to have read every question, but people approached Jon Boyd after the four-hour meeting asking why their question had not been read. No public comment or outbursts were allowed or speeches from the audience. Pagosa Springs resident Juana Lee Park was removed from the crowd for speaking out and telling Honts and McCombs that they were ignoring the effects their development would have on Archuleta County. She was escorted from the standing-room-only 275-capacity meeting room by a Mineral County sheriff’s deputy.
Seventy-eight year old billionaire, Billy Joe “Red” McCombs left halfway through the four-hour meeting because he was not feeling well. But before he left he addressed the density of the 2,172 units and 222,100 square feet of retail space. “These are the maximum numbers,” McCombs said. “The public will ultimately decide what the density will be. We don’t know if we can market 500 units. We’re not going to build until we find out if we can sell some.”
Later, Honts said, “We will never build all 2,172 units.” But he went on to say, “I wouldn’t take Mr. McCombs statement as pessimistic. I have never seen a man that could sell better than Red McCombs.” Honts said that together he and McCombs would invest more than $100 million during the first phase of the development.
Honts pointed out that an appendix to the EIS includes projected economic impacts based upon an IMPLAN model result. In year six, the IMPLAN model suggests that tax revenues from construction and operations in the tri-county area will peak at nearly $23 million and that the project will provide 3,700 new jobs.
“Per capita, Mineral County will be the wealthiest county in Colorado,” Honts said. “The tri-county area will be one of the wealthiest. We will see an increase [in income] of 80 percent for southwest Colorado.”
Honts announced that the Village at Wolf Creek will include a major university conference center and said they will soon unveil plans for a golf course either east or west of the village, but most likely in Rio Grande County.
“I have always wondered why there is such antagonism toward developers,” McCombs said before he left. “Without developers we wouldn’t have highways and airports and I wouldn’t have my business. Most areas of the world are looking for development. After the village has been opened a few years, it will be hard to find anyone opposed to it.”