No extra hours for hot springs

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After an intense meeting that brought out more than two dozen residents, the Routt County Planning Commission turned down the Strawberry Park Hot Springs' request to extend weekday hours to midnight.

The commissioners took issue with the fact that the park had "blatantly violated" guidelines made in 2000, which instructed the park to close to all drive-up visitors at 10:30 p.m. Park owner Don Johnson has said the park has not allowed visitors in after 10:30 p.m. but that it also hasn't been closing until about midnight.

"The problem with this world-class resort," Planning Commissioner Fred Nichols said, referring to a comment made earlier about the worldwide fame of the hot springs, "it thinks it can do whatever it wants whenever it wants to the community. I'm tired of it, Don. You have a responsibility as an operator to adhere to the conditions.

"I think we should be saying to you, you're through operating until you come in with everything (in compliance.)"

Johnson replied that he was doing his best, but Nichols said that was not good enough.

Nichols said that the park was out of compliance with seven of the 29 conditions in its 2000 permit.

The Planning Commission voted to deny Johnson's request for extended hours, but did grant his request to extend the completion deadline for a manager's cabin he has been building until Sept. 30, 2004. The commission also instructed planners to review the park's operations and report back with their findings.

Strawberry Park resident Ben Beall said the park hasn't paid attention to conditions the Planning Commission has laid out in the past.

"Nothing has changed through the years," Beall said. "The hot springs refuses to abide by the conditions."

Beall then presented a flier from the Strawberry Park Hot Springs that advertised closing time as midnight.

Butch Bowers, another hot springs neighbor, said he has been woken in the middle of the night by people camping in his yard or pounding on his door.

"They either want to use your phone or come in your house to get warm," Bowers said.

Daniel White, who works at the hot springs, responded to Beall's and Bowers' statements by saying he hasn't found much activity at the hot springs after 10:30 p.m. weeknights.

"I'm not seeing the craziness everybody is talking about," White said. "It's just not happening."

Finally, Dave Dooley, speaking in support of Johnson, said that Johnson's "faults" as a businessman have resulted in the creation of a funky park that fits in with the town.

"If Don were a developer ... we'd probably have 200 condos up there," Dooley said.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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