County, landowner discuss Chihuahua’s future
SUMMIT COUNTY – Landowner Gary Miller wants to keep the town of Chihuahua from ever again breathing life. And so far, the Summit Board of County Commissioners are supporting his plan to do so.
Miller, with an entourage that included an attorney and a land planner, Monday presented his plan for the secluded mountain town site to the BOCC. U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Jamie Connell said the USFS is in general support of the idea.
Miller wants to arrange a federal land trade that would remove housing units from the Chihuahua town site, while allowing him to develop about 50 single-family homes in Keystone’s Ski Tip Neighborhood area. The remaining Chihuahua density could be deposited in a land bank, from which county officials could draw to help build affordable, entry-level housing.
The 43-acre town site would then become federal land. Its use would then continue as part of the skiing and hiking terrain for which backcountry enthusiasts already now use it.
For example, every unit of density has monetary value. The county could borrow against the value of the land to possibly construct affordable housing and/or purchase land for that housing. Of course, Miller’s proposal is in its early stages and is dependent on the county’s and other agencies’ approval.
Chihuahua is located in Peru Creek, a valley situated about eight miles from Keystone Resort near Montezuma. The town, at an elevation of about 10,400 feet, is at the confluence of the Chihuahua and Peru creeks.
In the late 1800s, about 250 people made their home in Chihuahua. But fire and the decline of the mining industry reduced the once-thriving village to a ghost town.
Nevertheless, Chihuahua remains an incorporated town.
“It is the site of potential development because we have some 500 lots in town,” said John Wood, Miller’s attorney.
Because of wetlands and steep slopes, Wood said only about 300 of the lots could realistically be developed. But, he was quick to point out, Miller doesn’t want to look any further in that direction.
“We want to put this into public ownership and instead acquire a site further down valley that is more suitable for development, more centrally located,” he told the BOCC.
That area in Keystone in which Chihuahua LLC hopes to build homes is highly desirable real estate property – located at the base of the ski area, close to a proposed third lift and mountain access point.
But the proposed land trade won’t come easy. It will require an amendment to the Snake River Master Plan, a rezoning of the Keystone property and a development agreement with the county to make it all happen.
“Every one of these is a public process,” Wood said. “We do anticipate a lot of public scrutiny.”
The Forest Service’s Connell said her office supports the idea to date.
“Certainly the area around Chihuahua and the potential for development – I don’t think that’s a good thing,” she said. “We think it should be federal ownership and we’re excited about that.”
The Forest Service is more concerned and has more questions about moving some of that density to the Keystone parcel, but she indicated those problems aren’t insurmountable.
“We didn’t see any fatal flaws with the initial stages of pursuing this,” Connell said.
County Commissioner Bill Wallace said the public process won’t be easy. In fact, he warned Woods and Miller that some people might instead suggest they go ahead and develop Chihuahua.
“We’ve had some public hearings on some of that property, property that is already bought, platted and zoned, and it’s getting negative comment,” he said. “They’re saying it’s too much.
“You want to develop Chihuahua? Some people may say, “Go ahead.’ It’s going to take water and sewer. There may be people who will say that surrounded by national forest, there won’t be any urban sprawl in Chihuahua.”
Last year, area homeowners objected when Keystone Real Estate Development (KRED) attempted to develop in an area thought to be a vital wildlife corridor; the area had been identified as developable property in Keystone’s plan. Earlier this year, KRED dropped those plans and has since offered to dedicate the parcel as open space. Nevertheless, he and the other commissioners said the embryonic idea has their initial support.
Chihuahua in its prime: A thriving mining town
Its incorporation is about all that survives the former town of Chihuahua. But in its heyday, this mining community was home to about 200 residents, its own post office, two hotels, three restaurants, three saloons, two grocery stores, a butcher shop, a general store, dry goods store, a school and a sawmill. Twenty-four students attended the school in the year 1881-82.
But all of this was destroyed in a disastrous 1989 fire, which left only a few cabins on the back street untouched.
– Information from Mary Ellen Gilliland’s book, “Summit: A Gold Rush History of Summit County”
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