Chihuahua closes in on protection |

Chihuahua closes in on protection

Summit Daily/Brad OdekirkThe Summit Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a request Monday to rezone 21 acres near River Run to biuld 24 high-end homes. Development is contingent on a U.S. Forest Service land exchange, in which Chihuahua, pictured here, will be turned over to the public and development rights there will be extinguished.

KEYSTONE – Settlers in the late 1800s who purchased $75 plots of land in the Chihuahua townsite probably never would have guessed their 25-foot by 100-foot properties would be combined more than 100 years later into a neighborhood of 5,000-square-foot mountain retreats, but that is developer Gary Miller’s plan.Miller, who says he owns the old Chihuahua townsite located up the Peru Creek drainage, achieved an important step Monday in his plan to swap it and build a neighborhood of high-end homes near River Run on what is now Forest Service land. The Summit Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved Miller’s request Monday to rezone 21 acres near River Run to build 24 high-end homes.

Development is contingent on a U.S. Forest Service land exchange, in which Chihuahua will be turned over to the public and Miller’s development rights there extinguished. “This is a pretty good deal,” said Commissioner Tom Long. “We’ve extinguished a bunch of potential development … any way you slice it, I think everyone in Summit County gains.”Commissioner Bill Wallace was absent from the meeting, where commissioners Long and Bob French also voted 2-0 to vest Miller’s new development rights for 10 years.French was initially surprised at the request to hold onto the rights for that long.

“The world does turn a lot of times in 10 years,” he said, but then dismissed the concern and said, “I’ll take your word for it,” when planner Chris Hawkins explained the department felt the vesting period was appropriate. The new zoning would allow 24 units of density on the parcel, also known as Dercum’s Dash. Miller plans to build two dozen high-end homes on a street with two cul de sacs and a 6,000-square-foot clubhouse with one employee unit.The commissioners’ decision indirectly endorsed the land swap, which would potentially protect Chihuahua. Miller’s ownership of the old townsite is still unproven as he continues to seek a “quiet title” on the property. It is a key issue for the land exchange to go forward and is also a condition on Monday’s zoning approval.

Paul Semmer, Forest Service community planner with the Dillon Ranger District, said the Snake River land exchange is in preliminary stages. The agency wants to acquire the 43-acre Chihuahua parcel for its recreational, wildlife and historical values.County planners said Chihuahua might yield 187 density units if scrutinized under the development code, even though 490 lots may have existed. On the other hand, under the county’s broader zoning rules that inclue A-1 or the new backcountry zone, the acreage would sustain only two units. John Wood, Miller’s attorney, argued that ownership and potential development would be moot if the entire township is turned over to the Forest Service.No one spoke during the public comment period at Monday’s re-zoning hearing.

While Wood discussed Chihuahua’s development potential at planning meetings, Miller said in an interview Monday he never intended to develop it. His wife, Kikken, a cross country skier who likes to ski in the Peru Creek drainage, asked him to buy it so it wouldn’t be developed, Miller said.He purchased it in 1997.Kim Marquis can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249, or at

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