The gambel oak-covered uplands on Slate Creek Ranch someday could be occupied by 235 five-acre lots. Routt County Road 129 is pictured in the foreground, with vehicles traveling just before the entrance to Elk River Estates.

Photo by Tom Ross

The gambel oak-covered uplands on Slate Creek Ranch someday could be occupied by 235 five-acre lots. Routt County Road 129 is pictured in the foreground, with vehicles traveling just before the entrance to Elk River Estates.

Ranch proposal seeks to use transfer of development rights

Slate Creek plans include homes, golf course



— A Houston-based development firm that owns Slate Creek Ranch, just northwest of the Steamboat Springs Airport, is tentatively pursuing a plan to build as many as 235 5-acre home sites and a 36-hole golf course. The development would span 1,150 acres that share a boundary with city limits.

Brent Romick and Joan Ryan, of the Romick & Associates real estate firm, confirmed they are working with Roger Brown, of RJB Consolidated, Ltd., on the project. To build a development of that scale, the developers would plan to conform to a new set of Routt County transfer of development rights regulations, which still are in development themselves. If it came to pass, the developers would purchase development rights from other private land in Routt County.

County Planning Director Chad Phillips said Thursday the Slate Creek project is not yet being reviewed by the county because the regulations to evaluate it do not exist. However, he said county commissioners have given a "thumbs up" to draft language for the new regulations, and the final wording could be in front of them sometime in October.

Assistant Planning Director Ellen Hoj has discussed the tentative plans for the Slate Creek project with Romick as she works on the TDR language.

Neither Romick nor the workings of a transfer of development rights program are strangers to the commissioners; they approved a TDR project this year that took the right to develop homes off a property owned by the John Adams family on Flying Diamond Ranch and Thorpe Mountain in the South Valley and transferred them to the existing Alpine Mountain Ranch subdivision just outside the southern boundary of Steamboat Springs.

Romick and Ryan worked on the deal between the two property owners and helped to shepherd the transfer through the county process.

That essentially was a three-way business transaction, Hoj said, with the two property owners reaching an agreement and Alpine Mountain Ranch sending cash to Adams, with the county ensuring that the public benefit in terms of preservation of open space and wildlife habitat was sufficient to grant Alpine Mountain Ranch the right to build more lots.

In the transfer of development rights process, the property owner who gives up development rights is called the sender, and the property owner acquiring those rights is called the receiver. Possible senders in this case include Adams, who would conserve more land on Thorpe Mountain, and Bob Waltrip, who would conserve land in western Routt County on Wolf Mountain Ranch.

Waltrip's daughter, Holly, confirmed her father's interest in the project this week.

"We've got all the attributes on Wolf Mountain to be a sender, including wildlife habitat," Holly Waltrip said.

Bob Waltrip put more than 2,700 acres of Wolf Mountain Ranch into a conservation easement held by The Nature Conservancy in 2007.

The intent of TDR is to identify key open space and agricultural parcels throughout the county to act as senders to shift development closer to existing centers. Steamboat is one obvious choice, but if other towns - Oak Creek and Hayden, for example - were interested, they could be involved, Hoj said.

The Flying Diamond transfer was unique in that the original development permit for Alpine Mountain Ranch gave the developers permission in advance to seek to add to the number of approved lots in their development if they could purchase the rights off a desirable property in the South Valley.

That deal served as a test case for a permanent TDR program in Routt County. With the test case successfully concluded, the county commissioners directed Hoj to continue drafting permanent regulations.

Romick said this week that his developer is approaching the public process with the utmost humility and is not assuming that he can build anything on Slate Creek Ranch beyond the 42 lots he might be granted under the county's existing land preservation subdivision. The final proposal could downsize the golf course from 36 to 18 holes, or not include golf at all, Romick added.

However, Brown has spent almost 15 years since purchasing the ranch in 1993 proving up existing water rights, including a 38 percent share in the Woodchuck Ditch Company, which dates to 1911 and carries water from Gun and Soda creeks in Strawberry Park over Copper Ridge.

A large portion of that water would remain in reserve to irrigate hay meadows that amount to a greenbelt straddling Routt County Road 129 (Elk River Road).

"Our job is to conserve one of the gateways to the city," Romick said.

The combination of Slate Creek, which is a dry streambed for 80 percent of the year, and the Woodchuck Ditch isn't sufficient to provide domestic water for the development, Romick said.

However, the developer filed for additional water rights in 2007, including as many as eight wells and a pair of large reservoirs. That filing is moving through water court; the city of Steamboat Springs is a registered opposer.

Romick said the larger of the reservoirs would hold 1,100 acre feet, and the smaller would hold 675 acre feet. The water to fill the reservoirs would come from snowmelt.

Romick added that the Slate Creek water rights filing pre-date a large filing made by Shell Oil late in 2008.


Wayne Eller 7 years, 7 months ago

Another way to add ruin to our valley. Before any more developement is approved, the developer should be required to also provide jobs!!!


Joey 7 years, 7 months ago

Think of it this way....try to understand the conservation side of this proposal...Having the ability to conserve into perpetuity thousands of acres, at no expense to the tax payer, is truly the meaning of sustainability...we should embrace this effort and support ways of saving our existing ranches, natural resources and wildlife. Place growth in areas that can be supported by proper infrastructure in or near growth centers. There are currently developments being proposed, along with developments that have been approved, that do not offer this type of benefit to the public, the County, the agriculture and the wildlife habitat! Let's face it, growth is going to happen in our valley...this cannot be stopped....but being able to preserve our precious natural resouces in conjunction with proper land planning should be the way of our future in Routt County....


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