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Animas Valley residents organize to preserve ‘traditional rural’ character from developments

Residents sound off against planned 306-stall RV park
Dot Wehrly speaks to a crowd gathered on Saturday at the Animas Valley Grange as the newly formed Animas Valley Action Coalition organizes its opposition to the proposed RV park near Dalton Ranch. Area residents formed four committees focused on communication, research, legal efforts and administration. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The Animas Valley Action Coalition, assembled to check developments in the Animas Valley and preserve its traditional rural lifestyle, held its first meeting on Saturday at the Animas Valley Garage on County Road 203. A full house of 78 area residents attended the meeting.

Many attendees were eager to jump into the details of Arizona-based developer Scott Roberts’ plans to build a luxury RV park at 876 Trimble Lane (County Road 252), a project some Animas Valley residents consider to be too large for the area. But the first order of business was to determine if there is enough public interest from Animas Valley residents to carry the coalition forward, which was the primary subject of the meeting.

Darlene Koontz, who led the meeting, said the coalition was spurred into action by the possible RV park development, but it wasn’t formed strictly to address that project. It is intended to be an organization that gets involved whenever any troubling developments target the Animas Valley.

Coalition member Brenda Fernandez said she and residents of the Animas Valley know how ripe the area is for development, but they want a voice in developments considered by La Plata County.

Darlene Koontz, left, speaks with Barb Sowers on Saturday at the Animas Valley Garage at the first meeting of the newly formed Animas Valley Action Coalition. Residents were prompted to form the community coalition after receiving news of a proposed RV park near Dalton Ranch, a development residents consider too large for the rural area, but the coalition is intended to persist long after that project goes wherever it will, with the intent of protecting and preserving the area from any future developments that clash with the area vision outlined in the Animas Valley District Plan. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

She, and other attendees, said the county is ignoring the Animas Valley District Plan, which outlines the character of the area and “allows for more orderly and predictable growth patterns by serving as a guide to the current County Land Use System and addressing the compatibility of land uses,” among other things, according to a 2019 county resolution to adopt the plan.

“It would be nice to have the developers really listen and take that (plan) into consideration,” she said.

Koontz received an overwhelming “Yes” from attendees when she asked if there is support for continuing the coalition and if residents are willing to volunteer their time. She and three fellow coordinating group members put together ground rules, planned four committees to spread out the burden of running AVAC and invited residents to add their input.

AVAC will have four committees focused on different aspects of the organization:

  • Communication committee: Messaging and media engagement.
  • Research committee: Fact-finding on myriad topics including water, sanitation, RV park operations, dark sky impacts and studies, soundscapes, wildlife and noise pollution.
  • Legal information: Freedom of Information Act and Colorado Open Records Act requests, land use and other codes, legal expertise and support.
  • Administrative duties: AVAC organizational structure, possible elections for leading members, recording and distributing meeting minutes, and other functional requirements.
Ground rules were set, committees were formed and the Animas Valley Action Coalition, a grassroots organization formed to protect the Animas Valley from projects that violate the Animas Valley District Plan, is making moves to combat the development of a proposed 306-stall RV park at 876 Trimble Lane (County Road 252). (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Residents sorted themselves into committee groups based on time and energy and area of expertise.

In an initial sketch plan of the potential RV park approved by the La Plata County Planning Commission in January, Roberts proposes a park containing 306 stalls for RVs, 49 of which would be occupied by prefabricated “adventure cabins,” which are basically tiny homes.

Some Animas Valley residents said Saturday they aren’t totally opposed to a new RV park, but the size and intensity represented in Roberts’ sketch plan are concerning. Others said they simply don’t support development of the RV park.

Casey White, Hermosa resident, said if residents don’t work together to raise a collective voice, they will have no say at all about what happens in the Animas Valley.

She said the proposed RV park is “problematic” for the valley and having an organized coalition is a “wonderful” idea and important for any community that values itself.

“I think this project in itself has raised a lot of alarms and people are concerned,” she said. “They’re concerned not because we’re not wonderful, gracious people who want people coming to Durango. But we want to preserve why Durango is the place that we choose to live.”

She said that wildlife and the natural environment are big pieces of what makes Durango and the Animas Valley special, and having a coalition around to protect the area is a good thing.

Darlene Koontz, left, and Dot Wehrly, speak to a crowd gathered Saturday at the Animas Valley Grange as the newly formed Animas Valley Action Coalition organizes its opposition to the proposed RV park near Dalton Ranch. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“And a lot of that has to do with the natural environment, access to the natural environment. A lot of people move here because they believe in preserving what’s pristine. Not exclusion, but preservation,” she said.

Judy Fairchild, who lives in south Dalton Ranch, said the idea of luxury RVs driving down streets and narrow county roads like Trimble Lane is “incompatible” with the area.

“Save the valley. It’s the gateway to the San Juans,” she said.

Dave Gibbons, an area resident, said he is not in favor of the proposed RV park even though it doesn’t impact him personally. He developed 14 shopping centers across the state of Florida, so he is familiar with how developments go. He would like if the proposed RV park had fewer lots.

“I’m wondering about the impact on Trimble Lane,” he said. “If a guy’s got a 50-foot RV, towing an extended cab pickup, towing a boat, that’s going to be 120 feet.”

He said most residents in south Dalton Ranch would prefer to see custom built single-family homes

“I think that would be much more desirable from our neighbors’ viewpoint. Single family homes,” he said. “It would benefit the golf course, the restaurant. I don’t think the RV park is going to contribute much at all.”

The next AVAC meeting was scheduled for the morning of April 22, with more details to be announced.

cburney@durangoherald.com

The newly formed Animas Valley Action Coalition met on Saturday at the Animas Valley Grange to organize its opposition to the proposed RV park near Dalton Ranch. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
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