Snake River developers go back to planning board for review
SUMMIT COUNTY – Developers looking to trade a backcountry parcel known as the old Chihuahua townsite for public property at Keystone will go back to the planning commission for further review on their idea to develop the Dercum’s Dash neighborhood. Rather than hear details of the development Monday, the Summit Board of County Commissioners remanded the proposal back to the Snake River Planning Commission – at the developers’ request.Armed with a 38-page staff report, county planner Lindsay Hirsh was ready to detail the merits and issues with Chihuahua LLC’s application to rezone the 21-acre Dercum’s Dash parcel. Currently owned by the U.S. Forest Service, the property is located in the Ski Tip/Jones Gulch area, south of the Snake River and southeast of River Run. Developers want to trade their 43-acre Chihuahua townsite, a backcountry inholding, for Dercum’s Dash.Noting that Dercum’s Dash is still owned by the public and in the hands of the U.S. Forest Service, Commissioner Bill Wallace asked if “the cart” wasn’t being “put before the horse” in the process.County attorney Jeff Huntley said that it was, but that any approval on a zoning request would be made contingent upon a Forest Service land exchange coming to fruition.According to Dillon Ranger District planner Paul Semmer, the Snake River Valley land exchange is in its preliminary stages. In addition to the Chihuahua townsite and Dercum’s Dash neighborhood, the exchange could also include inholdings in the Miners Creek drainage southwest of Frisco, which a different private property owner wants to trade for about 20 acres south of Montezuma Heights off Webster Pass Road. Any number of roadblocks could prolong or halt the land exchange process, but Chihuahua LLC is going ahead with its zoning request through the county in the event it can receive Dercum’s Dash.Semmer attended Monday’s hearing and told commissioners the land exchange is in the works. Currently, his office is waiting for a “quiet title” from developers, which will prove whether they own the Chihuahua township property and the development potential it may contain. Then, a valuation will be done on properties involved so the Forest Service can determine if it makes financial sense to go forward with a public hearing process and an environmental review.It is unclear how much development might be realistic at the Chihuahua townsite – possibly ranging between two and 400 units; therefore, its value is also in question, Semmer said.”Overall, we are supportive of acquiring the township of Chihuahua but more information is needed before we go forward,” Semmer said. If Chihuahua LLC receives approval on its zoning request for Dercum’s Dash, Semmer said that wouldn’t represent a vested right or have any effect on the land exchange decision.Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton called the process “awkward,” because the county is considering development on a parcel owned by the federal government. “We understand the applicant’s talking with the county; however, Summit County government has no authority over federal land until it goes into private ownership,” Semmer said. A developer is allowed by planning guidelines to submit an application on a property he or she does not own. The zoning request will cost Chihuahua LLC about $4,000, planning director Jim Curnutte said. In the meantime, the Snake River Planning Commission will continue to consider development of the Dercum’s Dash neighborhood. In May, it recommended denial of the proposal based on its density, among other items.Developers indicated Monday they will reduce density from 43 single-family units to 25 or less. That offer brought some positive comments from nearby homeowners, but basin resident Joel Bitler still does not support it.Bitler wants to protect the neighborhood’s old growth trees from the ax. The developer’s plan to spread 25 homes throughout the property will not do that, he said. He added that he also supports protecting the Chihuahua township, which stands to be preserved if the land exchange goes through. The Chihuahua township is popular with recreationists for hiking, picnicking, snowshoeing and Nordic skiing. It is located near the town of Montezuma in the Peru Creek drainage. Bitler suggested preserving the townsite through the open space program, but that approach is not being pursued.Kim Marquis can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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