Routt County commissioners table guest ranch plan

Officials say Sweetwood Ranch proposal doesn't fit county regulations


— Ryan Wood, of Sweetwood Ranch, spoke passionately Tuesday about his vision for translating the business plan of a Napa Valley winery onto his Elk River beef operation. But at the end of the afternoon, the Routt County Board of Commissioners couldn’t see a way to make his plans fit county regulations.

Ultimately, the commissioners voted unanimously to table indefinitely Wood’s request for a special-use permit to operate a guest ranch that would host special events.

“You have a great vision. There’s no doubt about that,” Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush told Wood. “The devil is in the details. And right now, we have regulations,” and what Wood wants to do may not fit within them. “If we table this, then we can discuss it further and work out the details.

“I feel badly that this got tabled and tabled again. We also need to be talking about how we can change some of those regulations.”

Wood told the commissioners he wanted to create a guest ranch based on the model of a California winery with its own vineyard as well as a bed and breakfast and a commercial kitchen that turns out gourmet dinners served on the premises.

“I don’t want to be a traditional dude ranch where we give traditional trail rides and slap a big 20-ounce steak on someone’s plate and sing over a campfire,” Wood said. “This is bigger than that. I’m in the beef business. I’m trying to tell a story. There is a revolution coming in connecting people with their food. In Napa Valley (California), people visit vineyards and see how wine is made, and they have a chance to have a dinner and taste the wines, and they’re branded by that experience, and they go home, and they want to order a case of that wine.

“What I’m proposing is no different than that. This is an opportunity to host people to experience our product and be branded by that. It’s marketing. And it’s in the dictionary definition of agriculture. To me agriculture is a cycle, and I want to complete the cycle. It’s what I’m passionate about.”

Wood’s proposal had been tabled by the Routt County Planning Commission on Feb. 17, but he won its members over and obtained a unanimous recommendation of approval April 7. But after a public hearing that lasted more than three hours Tuesday, Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak bluntly told Wood that his plans did not fit the definition of a guest ranch in the county zoning regulations.

“I have one huge problem,” Stahoviak said. “It’s an application for a guest ranch, and I don’t believe that all of the uses being proposed fit a guest ranch in the subdivision regulations. The definition of a guest ranch is a ranch that boards guests on the ranch and provides recreational opportunities for them on or near the ranch. We have a proposal for providing opportunities for people who are not boarding on the ranch.”

In addition to entertaining as many as 18 overnight guests on the ranch about 5 miles northwest of Steamboat Springs, Wood proposes to host three large events for as many as 200, wedding receptions for example, in his first year and five events in his second year. He also wants to host as many as 10 smaller events of as many as 65 people monthly, including meetings, family gatherings and fundraisers.

More than 55 members of the public turned out Tuesday to tell the commissioners what they think about those plans.

Neighbors speak out

Wood’s neighbors in two subdivisions of 35-acre lots that rim the hills above the bottomland of the ranch on the Elk River have spoken out in opposition, saying the noise of live music and the traffic congestion associated with large parties would disrupt their rural lifestyle.

“This is not generally about ranchers’ rights or individual property rights,” Paul Heimbach said. “We don’t understand how our rights should be subordinated to a commercial development. If the (special-use permit) goes forward and Mr. Wood should sell his property, the rights of the (permit) would go to new owners. We don’t know if the new owners would have the same good neighbor policy as Mr. Wood.”

Other residents of the Elk River Valley have welcomed Wood’s plans.

“I’m hoping you support Ryan Wood’s application today,” rancher Jay Fetcher said. “Several of us in ag are looking at these opportunities, both for (revenue) and sharing our properties. I’m very grateful to Ryan for showing us the way.”

Commissioner Doug Monger said it has been difficult for him to keep track of the evolution of Wood’s plans as it has come through the public process.

“The problem I’ve had with this is lack of predictability,” Monger said. “I see two different permits. We have two different permits with two different sets of impacts being thrown together. I’m still struggling with knowing what really is happening out there.”

Wood shared his own frustration with the commissioners.

“The impact this ranch would have (on the neighbors) has been so blown out of proportion, my blood is boiling, if you can’t tell,” Wood said.

He suggested that he hadn’t been prepared for the commissioners’ position that his proposal didn’t fit county regulations.

“I’ve only had the County Planning Department to be my guide through this process,” Wood said. “I’ve relied on planning (staff) and my attorney. I’ve never done this before. In the regulations there are guest ranches, B&Bs and special events and nothing else. We’re not a balloon fest or a board jam or a Woodstock or any of that.”

Routt County Planning Director Chad Phillips said his staff tried to adapt during the planning process to the increasing prominence of special events in Wood’s plans for his expanding business.

“When this application came in, it was for a guest ranch. Weddings weren’t spelled out. The wording was ‘future experiences’ or something like that,” Phillips said. “When we got more info from the applicant about what these experiences were, it became, ‘How do we make that work?’”

The commissioners have asked Phillips and Wood to continue meeting to determine how his plans can fit into county regulations.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email


Scott Wedel 5 years, 11 months ago

The obvious problem is that a Napa Valley winery is already a busy commercial facility. So adding lodging, restaurant and other amenities is not that much additional traffic or other impacts.

Meanwhile, a ranch is certainly much less of a commercial operation that a winery and a guest ranch is supposed to be guests staying at the ranch for recreation, food and lodging.

It is not obvious to me how a business plan for a winery can be transplanted to a ranch without creating huge challenges for zoning. The winery model would be to commercially zone the part of the parcel with the commercial operations and leave the rest of the parcel agricultural. And even the Napa Valley has had huge fights over wineries plan to be more of a resort and neighbors desires to enjoy the rural atmosphere.


steamboatsprings 5 years, 11 months ago

Keep trying Ryan. The county is slow to change but seems willing in this case. You are doing the right thing for the land and the county.


kathy foos 5 years, 11 months ago

Are the grapes to be imported from Napa Valley?I dont think you can raise grapes up here unless you have a greenhouse,and even then it would take many years for them to be productive.Sounds like a fairy tale.


Scott Ford 5 years, 11 months ago

Ryan - I think you are likely closer to getting an OK than this article would lead us to believe. Patience, pleasantry, and persistency will eventually prevail. Continue to work with Chad and plan on showing up at least twice a month at the BCC and give them an updates about how things are progressing during the time allowed for Public Comment. You get up to three minutes where the floor is yours.


Scott Ford 5 years, 11 months ago

Hi Kathy - I have met Ryan a couple of times and he seems like a smart guy. Specifically he likely has some marketing "smarts" we need to give him credit for. Who is to say he does not envision some type of partnership with a Napa Valley winery where he serves and promotes their wine and he ships Sweetwater beef to them where they are served and promote his product.

As the co-founder Under Armour, Inc., a company with a current market capitalization of $3 billion - there is likely strong evidence that he comes up with ideas that work. It is my understanding that Ryan is no longer involved with Under Armor but I would like to suggest that the Board of County Commissioners try to encourage rather than discourage his entrepreneurial energy. Agreed?


Scott Wedel 5 years, 11 months ago

Scott F, I think the energy is great.

I think the problem is trying to fit what is proposed under the guest ranch category because it would be a huge expansion of what is allowed. It would set a precedent that any ranch could open a hotel/motel, restaurant and party/meeting center. And apartments/housing can be considered motel rooms rented for longer periods so it would also allow a ranch to allowing rental housing under the guest ranch definition.

His proposal is way ahead of county zoning regulations for that sort of activity. Maybe it should be allowed to happen, but how the County would handle similar proposals for other ranches needs to be considered and figured out. It isn't acceptable to say as long as the property owner is a very wealthy person involved in a successful business then they can do whatever they want.

And Routt County has long been cautious on allowing new uses on ag/ranching properties. Remember the development that proposed a runway so owners could fly in and park their planes at their houses? There have been numerous proposals for wedding venues that have mostly been turned down.


Doug Matthews 5 years, 11 months ago

I like watching the carnival when it comes to town! Ryan Wood represents himself as a local rancher. He sells beef as if it were locally raised. Sure, he tried that, and then figured out that it is more profitable to raise it in a feedlot on the front range, and then haul it here after it is processed to sell it as "local." It is represented in local restaurants as "grass fed" on the menus. It is not, and it makes no such claim on the label. It is represented as being "local" but it is no more local than any other beef sold in City Market or Safeway. If he wants to "Connect people with their food," then he should open his bed and breakfast in Greeley or Ault where they can enjoy the aroma of his beef actually being raised. That being said, he should be able to open his guest ranch operation as planned. Queen Nancy is hung up on the semantics of "Guest Ranch" versus "Bed and Breakfast." There is a problem with a ranch serving good meals to customers who are not staying on the ranch? How about the several companies/ranches offering sleigh ride dinner programs? Of course, Doug Monger can't quite wrap his mind around how to assemble the various proposals into some overall gesalt, but why am I not surprised at that? And then there is Diane Mitsch-Busch who only parrots what the other two say. Grant Mr. Wood a Conditional Use Permit, and see how it works. If it is done this way, the use is not a use by right, conditions can be attached, and it can be withdrawn if conditions are not adhered to. It will not have to automatically transfer with the sale of the property when Woods gets tired of playing pretend rancher. Other properties would have to apply on a case by case basis. Oh, and the neighbors should recognize that private property is just that, private property. Assuming that having a couple of weddings a year at the neighbor's place will destroy their quality of life is absurd.


ybul 5 years, 11 months ago

A question on private property, if all elements of the activities can be contained within the property then they are strictly private and have no effect on others. Though if ones activities can not be contained within ones property then those activities are effecting another's private property.

If all noise is contained on the property then he has no effect on neighbors, if not then those activities should not be considered strictly within an individuals private property rights as they impact others and their private property rights.


1999 5 years, 11 months ago

it's all about zoning ybul.

I certainly can not put a 5 story hotel on my downtown home lot. (though I might try...have a couple weddings, maybe host the Cannibis Cup, invite the Red Hot Chili Peppers to play, charge for tickets, parking won't be a problem, and I'm sure all of my downtown neighbors will no problem with the noise)


ybul 5 years, 11 months ago

Yes it is all about zoning. In the country one does not expect loud music, especially for commerce.

The point was that while one should be able to do whatever they want with their property (if that right has not been bought via conservation easement) as long as it does not have an impact upon others. Once you make an impact upon others then you have impacted their property rights and thus the zoning laws you speak of and the debate surrounding this application.

If there was no impact to neighbors then he should be able to do whatever he wants, yet there is and thus the need for zoning, permits and this application process.


ybul 5 years, 11 months ago

Laissez Faire is great when it has no byproducts that are dumped upon others, brother.


ybul 5 years, 11 months ago

Yep, no one should live in a bubble. But one would think that in order to do something on ones own rural property, you ought to endure the side effects of it yourself.


ybul 5 years, 11 months ago

The residential area have little say on the ag operations. They probably actually want the Ag aspect. If they move to the country and do not expect to see/smell/hear cattle then too bad.

However, this is not about ag it is about commercial. Yep have to find a way for ag to make money. But maybe the process of cutting hay and feeding it to cattle in the winter is not sustainable and cattle should migrate into and out of the valley like deer and elk do for the most part excluding those that find a hay stack to invade.


Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.