Steamboat Springs A group of residents, many of whom live on Fish Creek Falls Road near the falls, are attempting to purchase and conserve a 104-acre piece of land slated for a luxury development.
The parcel offers exquisite views and contains critical habitat for elk and mule deer herds. The aspen and conifer-covered hillsides on the property, in addition to the animal habitat, make it one of the most significant sites in the Fish Creek Falls area, according to the City Planning Department.
The group has less than two months to raise $4 million, $500,000 of which they say is already pledged or donated to pay for Elkins Meadow, which the group has renamed Fish Creek Falls Meadow.
If the group is not successful in raising the money, a road may be built through the meadow that connects to 20 luxury home sites.
The most recent deadline the developer set for the group is Jan. 8.
"We as a group want to preserve this as it is because of the major loss of open space within the city limits and because it is a major amenity to the community as a whole," said Kyle Cox, one of the members of the group.
A Chicago-based developer has already brought a conceptual plan for the site complete with a video showcasing 3,500- to 5,000-square-foot luxury homes before the city Planning Commission and the City Council. Although the council did note that changes would probably have to be made, including a further clustering of homes, the developer was generally praised for minimizing the overall impact to the property.
With the capability for one-home per acre in the development, the developer could legally have filled much more of the field with houses.
Still, the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan designates Elkins Meadow as having an agricultural/rural residential land use, which calls for very low density of homes. It is actually the only parcel of land within the city limits that has that designation.
And while it is in the city, it is also across the street from county land, which is cut primarily into 35-acre parcels.
Nearby residents showed up at meetings to voice concerns about the number, placement and size of the buildings.
City officials said they wish they had been able to purchase the property earlier.
"In the best of all worlds the city should have bought it from the Elkins 100 years ago, but that's not what happened," said Planning Commissioner Dan Baker.
The developer, Paul Franklin, actually owns a parcel of land in the county across the road from the meadow. He has worked with the adjacent residents and said he is willing to let the group try to preserve the parcel, but does not think his development would put the meadow in danger of being paved over or closed off. He is basically offering the meadow at cost to the group, after he paid $3.8 million to the Elkins family this summer, based on county assessor's records.
Franklin said he has no intentions of ruining his or his neighbors' views or impeding on wildlife in the area. Steve Elkins agreed with Franklin's plans and has endorsed the project.
Franklin said he is also interested in giving the public access to the meadow on three trails, one of which would be built alongside the road that would run through the development.
"I'm designing the plan so it will still be a beautiful meadow," Franklin said.
Though many of the members in the group trying to save the meadow live near the property, they say their cause is one the entire community should get behind.
The meadow, owned for many years by the Elkins family, which kept cattle on the property, is used by cross-country skiers who are members of the Steamboat Ski Touring and Snow Shoeing Center and is particularly visible on the way to Fish Creek Falls. It is also the home of the skyline trail, used primarily for cross-country skiing, which traverses a high ridge above the meadow.
The group wants to build a public access trail through the meadow to give everyone a chance to experience it. It could even hook up to the forest service's Fish Creek Falls trail system, group members said.
The group wants to place a conservation easement held by the Yampa Valley Land Trust on the property to protect it in perpetuity.
Susan Otis, the executive director of the land trust, said she thinks the push for preservation is a significant one, even if it is led by a group of residents who some may accuse of simply being overly concerned with development near their properties.
"I know people say this is a backyard issue," she said, "but there's no better place to start than your own backyard."
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