County: Elk range must be protected

Alpine Mountain Ranch seeks final OK

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Future residents of the luxury Alpine Mountain Ranch subdivision almost certainly will have elk -- and lots of them --or neighbors.

Alpine Mountain Ranch would include as many as 63 luxury home lots on a west-facing hillside just south of the Steamboat Springs city limits. During a recent Planning Commission hearing, one of the primary topics of conversation was how the developers could accommodate the large elk herd that winters on the site.

The Routt County Regional Planning Commission gave the project a unanimous rec--om--mendation of approval Thurs--day. The development proposal comes before the Routt County Board of Com--missioners at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The ranch originally was proposed to include 43 home sites. However, under recent revisions to Land Preservation Subdivision regulations, Al----pine Mountain Ranch could be used as a pilot program in which development rights would be transferred to the ranch from another parcel on the valley floor. Accordingly, developers can create as many as 20 additional "contingency lots" at Alpine Mountain Ranch. That would be contingent on their ability to acquire an additional 600 acres or more on the valley floor. That land would have to be set aside from development.

Colorado Division of Wildlife District Wildlife Manager Libby Miller told Planning Commission members that the 20 contingency lots could be particularly harmful to an important elk winter range. However, John Monarch, a wildlife consultant working for the developers, said he thought Libby failed to take into account some of the habitat mitigation plans already being contemplated by the developers.

In a letter to the county, Miller wrote that "the addition of 20 contingency lots to this area will potentially result in irreparable damage to the already tenuous winter range situation within the Priest Creek-Walton Creek area."

Monarch countered that his firm had monitored the elk population in the area for 11 years and concluded that "while elk do utilize some sites during the winter where proposed contingency lots would be located, the largest concentrations of elk during the winter are located outside of the portion of the property where the contingency lots would be."

Monarch said the developers would undertake an aggressive project to improve elk habitat and forage on hundreds of acres of land in the undeveloped portion of the ranch.

County planner Chad Phillips said Alpine Mountain Ranch agreed to expand its wildlife habitat mitigation efforts to terrain outside the boundaries of the development.

The developers' commitment to working out habitat mitigation projects with the Colorado Division of Wildlife is a condition of the Planning Commission's approval of the project.

Monarch said he expects that the net result of the project will be an increase of the elk-carrying capacity of the land.

Alpine Mountain Ranch would be created on 1,216 acres across U.S. Highway 40 from the Haymaker Golf Course on Routt County Road 24. The developers are asking the county for a "land preservation exemption subdivision." It would allow them to create more lots in exchange for clustering the home sites on a fraction of the overall parcel. They propose to leave 900 acres largely undeveloped.

Partners Bill Butler and Andy Daly have begun taking reservations for the first 19 lots in Phase I of the development.

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