Ken Reed: Sweetwood permit

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— A petition for a special-use permit has been submitted to the Routt County Planning Commission by Ryan Wood, of Sweetwood Ranch, which is located about five miles north of Steamboat Springs along the Elk River. It is the headquarters for Sweetwood Cattle Co. The range of activities being requested by this special-use permit goes considerably beyond the intent of the original conservation easement granted by Bill and Cynthia May (the previous ranch owners) to the Yampa Valley Land Trust.

The overriding intent for granting conservation easements by the Yampa Valley Land Trust was to keep special farms and farm land continuously in agricultural use such that the land would not be diverted to housing development or other non-agricultural uses. This was also the reason given by the Routt County political community and sold to the Routt County taxpayers so that tax monies could be spent to help reach these land-utilization goals. The public in turn receives the pleasure of viewing a more pristine parcel of land, undeveloped and free from the normal problems inherent with high use commercial development.

In order to remove some of the restrictions in the Yampa Valley Land Trust contract, the conservation easement was transferred to the Colorado Cattleman’s Agricultural Land Trust. Approval of this special-use permit would further dilute the intent of conservation easement by allowing a non-agricultural business entity unrelated to agriculture. The petition for the special-use permit indicates that the ranch will be conducting as many as three special events/weddings/parties per month with up to 200 people attending and an undefined number of staff to support these events. The Planning Commission’s comments in regard to this request do not adequately address traffic concerns, shuttle transportation, water and sewage requirements, noise pollution, and impact on wildlife.

Having 200 partying folks almost every weekend of the summer will have a negative impact on the surrounding homes, as the location of the Sweetwood Ranch has an amphitheatre-like affect in the surrounding area.

This permit application should be tabled until a broader public is involved and understands how conservation easement grants are made, paid for and traded from one granting entity to another, and more specifically, what changes were made in that transfer. The effects of the special uses on the land and surrounding properties need to be resolved before, not after, the approval of the permit.

This special-use permit is scheduled to be discussed by the Routt County Planning Commission at 6 p.m. Thurs­day in the Commissioners Hear­ing Room at the historic Routt County Courthouse, 522 Lincoln Ave. Anyone who is concerned about the change of use of conservation easement land is encouraged to attend.

Ken Reed

Routt County

Comments

Karen Parks 3 years, 2 months ago

The location of the Sweetwood Ranch makes it non-conducive to containing high noise levels to its' property boundaries. The ranch is in a valley creating an amphitheatre style noise level for the homes above the ranch. We nearby homeowners have heard the effects of a band in August of 2009, whereby, the band sounded as if it were on our own patios & decks. Allowing the types of events requested in the Special Permit would ensure the loss of tranquility in the summer & fall for homeowners in the Lower Elk River Valley. The designation of a "conservation easement" makes one assume that commercial development is not going to take place. Changes in this designation will likely decrease the property values of the neighboring homes since the attraction to this area is for the peacefulness and presence of wildlife which will both be impacted if this Special Permit is granted.

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Kelly Victory 3 years, 2 months ago

We also live on a property in close proximity to the Sweetwood Ranch and would be profoundly affected by the development of a commercial enterprise such as a guest ranch or "special events venue" at that location. We bought our property and built our home when the land that is now Sweetwood Ranch was under a conservation easement granted by the Mays (the previous ranch owners) to the Yampa Valley Land Trust (YVLT). Significant county tax monies were exchanged for the guarantee that this property would remain pristine and minimally developed. Apparently, the conservation easement was transferred out of the YVLT to the Colorado Cattleman’s Agricultural Land Trust, with what now appears to be the express purpose of allowing the land to be developed in precisely the way we were assured it would not. As stated in Ken Reed's letter above, there is no doubt that an enterprise like to one being requested in Ryan Wood's Special Use Permit would result in significant noise polution and an overall disruption to the peace and tranquility that we were assured when we bought our property. In addition, we find this effort to be an aggregious manipulation of the intent of the original conservation easement as well as a gross misuse of tax payer money. We sincerely hope that the Planning Commission looks closely at not only the potential impact of this Special Use request on the surrounding properties, but also the way in which these easements were transferred, modified and paid for.

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Terry Anderson 3 years, 2 months ago

The commercial use requested by Ryan Wood in his Special Use Permit for activities on the Sweetwood Ranch is completely inconsistent with the underlying agricultural zoning, Routt County Master Plan, and overlying conservation easement. The negative impacts resulting from the proposed activities in terms of noise, traffic, light pollution, general degradation of the pristine land and damage to wildlife habitat will extend far past the immediate neighborhood. Anyone who enjoys using either the Mad Creek area or the trail from Strawberry Park Hot Springs will be affected. Every resident and visitor that uses CR 129 to access the Upper Elk River Valley could also be adversely impacted. The easement is supposed to protect the scenic values of the property and the historic family ranching legacy significant to the area. This proposed commercial use completely contradicts Routt County's goals of preservation and conservation, and should not be approved.

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greenwash 3 years, 2 months ago

Plenty of these so called " hobby ranches" up 129 offer up special events without obtaining proper permits. Time to do some research BOCC.

650 acres is a tiny gentlemans ranch. Its all a big fantasy . Steamboat Springs could gobble up in one night what they raise on barely a section of ground.Dont be fooled by the fancy truck.

Remember Doug Mathews and his long hair cows ? Now where are they?

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jerry carlton 3 years, 2 months ago

I live on county road 44 so I doubt that I will hear the noise or be much affected by the traffic. That said, what good are these conservation easements that are bought with my tax dollars? If you can take the May Ranch that was a working cattle ranch for 70? years and turn it into a dude ranch/wedding venue then your conservation easements are as much manure as the cattle dropped there for 70 years.

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Ken Reed 3 years, 2 months ago

Jerry,

That is exactly the point. Many of us bought our homes in the area nearby with the understanding that the May conservation easements would protect this land from commercial development. The system is being manipulated for one person's own benefit/ego at the detriment of many people in the area.

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cj mucklow 3 years, 2 months ago

As a board member of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) I wanted to clarify a few points from the editorial submitted by Ken Reed and other comments.

CCALT currently holds the conservation easement on the Sweetwood Ranch. This easement was funded in part by Great Outdoors Colorado as well as the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Routt County’s Purchase of Development Rights program did not fund any part of this easement and no County dollars were spent on the Sweetwood Ranch. The Conservation Easement was originally donated by the May family to the Yampa Valley Land Trust. YVLT subsequently approved the transfer to CCALT.

Conservation easements are voluntary contracts private landowners can use to protect the many conservation values that are associated with their lands. They are permanent restrictions and limit development and subdivision of a property. Conservation easements typically allow for and encourage traditional uses such as farming, ranching, hunting and fishing. Conservation easements are meant to protect a property while still making it economically viable. The proposed guest ranching operations on Sweetwood Ranch are in conformance with the conservation easement which encumbers the property. The original conservation easement donated by the Mays to YVLT allowed for compatible alternative uses such as bed and breakfasts and country inns. The easement was subsequently amended to improve the conservation values of the ranch by adding in 71 acres of lands and over ½ mile of Elk River frontage as well as to make some changes to the location of the building areas so they would be less impactful on the Conservation values of the Property.

The landowners of the Sweetwood Ranch worked with CCALT before submitting the permit application to make sure the proposed uses were in conformance with the conservation easement. Guest ranches and special events are one way to supplement income from agriculture as well as educate the public about western heritage and land ethics. We have seen guest operations paired very successfully with conservation easements in the past. There are other existing guest ranches in Routt County which are under conservation easement.

CCALT takes its stewardship obligations very seriously and we monitor our easement properties annually. CCALT will continue to work with the landowners of Sweetwood Ranch to be sure the commercial and recreational activities occurring on the ranch remain compatible with the conservation values of the property.

That being said, noise, traffic, light and zoning issues are above and beyond the scope of what a conservation easement entails. CCALT is only responsible for enforcing the terms written into the conservation easement. These are Planning Department issues and should be addressed in the Special Use Permit Process.

CCALT is appreciative of the importance the residents of Routt County place on agriculture.

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Ken Reed 3 years, 2 months ago

CJ,

Thanks for some of your clarifications, although the way the YVLT was transferred to the CCALT is suspicious. And now we have a Special Use Permit to expand the agricultural use to commercial use for "special events" of up to 200 people plus staff. With all due respect, and I appreciate what you do for the county, do you honestly think that this is all being done to "supplement income" as you put it?

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cj mucklow 3 years, 2 months ago

Ken: The transfer from YVLT to CCALTcould not have happened without YVLT board approval. They allowed it or it would not have happened. I would gladly explain what I know about this. I do think it is supplementing income for the ranch. You can call me tomorrow at work or even home tonight. We are in the book.

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Kelly Victory 3 years, 2 months ago

I bet the landowners of the Sweetwood Ranch worked with CCALT before submitting the permit application...They have worked the entire deal up one side and down the other, likely paying whomever they had to to get this deal through. It stinks. If prospective landowners cannot trust and rely on the zoning that surrounds the parcels of land that they consider buying, then you have just crippled the real estate market in this valley. We DID our due diligence BEFOREwe purchased and built -- and we were assured that nothing in the surrounding valley could be developed. The permit for the "Theme Park" that Ryan Woods is now requesting is an abomination, and totally out of line with what the Mays had intended for their homestead.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 2 months ago

I think it gets murky when the request is for 3 events a month. That is 3 of 4 weekends which is arguably less like special events and more like regularly scheduled events.

Though, it may work better for all to allow any number of events, but work on mitigating the effects via rules on noise/hours, shuttle vans vs guest cars, and find the location on the property that has less impact on neighbors.

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stillinsteamboat 3 years, 2 months ago

This guy has been here such a short time and has his hands in everything. Ryan, this is Steamboat. I don't think you are really contributing to the community by turning THE MAY RANCH into an amusement park. By the way, we saw you on News4 a few months back and heard you boast about YOUR conservation easement. You never once mentioned the May family who have a long and important history in this community. They are the selfless and generous family who intended to keep their property pristine in perpetuity

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boatwatch 3 years, 2 months ago

This proposal is such a blatant attempt to 'commercialize" a conversation easement that Routt County ought to table the proposal and allow the easment holder, Colorado Cattleman's Ag Land Trust to reassess their responsibilities. Citizens should also ask why the Yampa Valley Land Trust gave up the stewardship of this property to the CCALT. Did the YVLT and the CCALT receive significant donations from Ryan Wood to make this happen? Ryan Wood has the wealth to pursue whatever he purports his current "dream life" to be. However, wealth should not allow Ryan Wood to build a private "Disneyland " in the middle of what has always been a rural community. It is time to bring back the old bumpersticker; "STOP THE BRUTAL MARKETING!"

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Paul Heimbach 3 years, 2 months ago

The Wood Special Use Permit (SUP) asks for the ability to have 36 events per year with up to 200 people per event. The Planning Department Report goes further. It refers to events “with over 200 guests” needing only administrative approval with no public review. What is the final number? There is no definition of what type of events will be allowed. Apparently, any size, and any type of event with any type of community disrupting activity is acceptable. The Planning Department report is short on facts, evidence and studies. The original Yampa Valley Land Trust Easement entered into by the Mays and assumed by Wood protected the community. In some manner, the terms and rules were changed to allow even the consideration of this commercial activity. How did this happen? Where were the people entrusted with protecting the county and community? The events leading up to this situation deserve airing and the community deserves transparency. Now the request at hand subverts the good graces of the community to enable a commercial venture that will have a large and long term negative effect and appears to be counter to the original goal. If the rules can be changed that easily in this case, why not the next time and the next. The precedent that has the potential to be set here is to signal that rules, restrictions, etc., are temporary and just cannot be counted on to protect the community.

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Terry Anderson 3 years, 2 months ago

In an earlier comment, CJ Mucklow has come out as a strong proponent of Cattleman's Association interest with respect to the Sweetwood Ranch petition for a Special Use Permit. Please note that Mr. Mucklow serves on the CCALT Board of Directors AND as Routt County extension agent. The Cattleman"s Association is concerned only with the preservation and value of the easement that they steward, while Routt County, as stated in it's master plan and zoning regulations is concerned with the County as a whole and how the many uses occurring or proposed affect everyone in the County who will be impacted. How can Mr. Mucklow represent both sides of the issue at the same time? Finally, I believe that Mr. Mucklow is mistaken in his comment that the original YVLT conservation easement was "donated by the May Family". It is my understanding that the easement was purchased by the YVLT with the use of donated and public monies made available to the YVLT.

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jerry carlton 3 years, 2 months ago

Where does the money come from for Great Outdoors Colorado? Where does the money come from for Natural Resource Conservation Service? If absolutely no tax dollars were spent on this conservation easement then I have no dog in this fight. However I still say that if you can take a working cattle ranch and turn it into a dude ranch/wedding venue then your conservation easements are as much manure as the cows dropped there for 70 or 80 years.

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