By: Dan Randolph, San Juan Citizens Alliance, The Durango Herald
October 10, 2012

Thinking Green: Double play at the Village at Wolf Creek

The proposed land exchange that would allow for the construction of Village at Wolf Creek, is not only a travesty of greed over public interest, but also a huge economic gift from the taxpayers to a billionaire.

The proposal is for a year-round resort development with 1,711 units, which may include two hotels with 200 units, 16 condominiums with 821 units, 46 town homes with 522 units, 138 single-family lots and 221,000 feet of commercial space, all situated near the top of Wolf Creek Pass, adjacent to the small ski area.

Part of the current round of this fight is the trading of Forest Service lands by the developer. This is necessary for the proposed Village to have access to the highway.
To proceed with the swap, the Forest Service had an appraisal done to establish the value of the now public land parcel. Clearly, the value of any parcel depends on what it will or can be used for. The value of five single-family home sites is clearly less than the value of the proposed Village.

The Environmental Impact Statement analyzes the impacts of the Village proposal, poorly, but that is what is being analyzed.

However, the appraisal that is being used to establish the value of the public land that would be traded used five single-family homes sites as the proposed use.

The Forest Service and the McCombs family – the developer – can’t have it both ways. If the proposal is for the Village, then the land must be appraised for that use. Alternatively, the EIS could match the appraisal and should consider only five homes.

Is this merely an issue of money? Perhaps for the McCombs it is. For the public, which has repeatedly expressed overwhelming interest in having the meadows, wetlands and forest adjacent to the ski area remain as they are, it clearly is not.

The Forest Service argues in the EIS that the agency must allow year-round highway access, of the type needed for the Village, to allow for the “reasonable use and enjoyment” of the current private land parcel. The question becomes whether “reasonable use and enjoyment” necessitates the Village.

There are thousands of private in-holdings in the public lands of the West. Do they all have the right to the access necessary for 1,700 units? Is that a reasonable expectation for someone who buys an in-holding? The whole EIS is predicated on this absurd notion. The appraisal shows it to be absurd. The appraisal is based on the “highest and best use” of the parcel – five homes – rather than the dreams of the McCombs family.

Before the analysis goes any farther, the public has the right to understand why the Forest Service appears willing to trade the value of five home sites to facilitate a development of more than 1,700 units.

For a score of reasons, Wolf Creek Pass is not an appropriate location for a mega-development. Perhaps there is another location where a development could be located to be environmentally benign, a boost to a local economy and a feather in the McCombs family’s hat. Dan Randolph is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.

Read more at the Durango Herald.

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