Sweetwood Ranch plan draws crowd in Routt County

Rights, neighbors’ concerns and more factor in Sweetwood permit debate


— The Routt County Planning Commission wants to know more about how Ryan Wood intends to manage the impacts of special events, including weddings, on his Elk River cattle ranch before passing judgment on his request to operate a guest ranch.

“We need more information related to noise abatement,” Commissioner John Ayer said. “We need a trial plan before us, and a general traffic plan including a description for how it will be controlled.

“We want to see a general site plan for special events. And even though we already know the lighting has to be (shielded) and downcast, we need a lighting schematic showing how many lights will be used for special events.”

With that, the commission voted, 7-0, on Thursday night to table Wood’s request for a special use permit until April 7, with the first appearance before the Board of Routt County Commissioners pushed back to late April.

The vote came after more than three hours of discussion and public comments in a room packed with more than 60 people. The numbers of people who stood to speak for and against Wood’s plan were roughly equal.

“That ranch means a great deal to me — words can’t quite describe what it means to me,” Wood said. “This is going to be my family’s legacy. I’m not a developer. It’s not a theme park.”

Wood has established a natural beef operation, Sweetwood Cattle Co., on the ranch.

Wood’s neighbors, many in nearby residential subdivisions with lots of 35 acres or more, said they are fearful they will lose the serenity of their neighborhood.

“We agree (small guest ranches) should be done in many cases,” Virginia Amato, the longtime owner of Mad Mountain Ranch, said. “But this is a small ranch surrounded on all sides by single-family residences. I shudder to think about 25 tourists singing around a campfire night after night after night.”

Karen Anderson said her home sits on a hill directly above the ranch to the north.

“I can look down to the ranch headquarters from my home and the lights are on all night every night,” Anderson said. “Does this sound like Colorado agriculture to you? It doesn’t to me. Wood is proposing a full-blown commercial development. A venue for weddings interferes with our right to the use of our property.”

Other speakers said they think guest ranch operations are important means of adding cash flow necessary to keep family cattle ranches viable and part of the valley’s history.

Wood bought the S-S May Ranch from the May family for $5 million in 2007. The ranch is under a conservation easement, but the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust has confirmed the new buildings and activities Wood proposes are within the limits described in the conservation easement.

Bill and Cynthia May’s son, Jay, passed out vintage tourism brochures his parents used decades ago to attract guests and hunters to the ranch.

“We liked to share that ranch with as many people as we could,” May said. “Here’s a brochure for ‘May cabins for rent.’ We had three cabins and a big bunkhouse. People came out to fish. Church groups would come out and do big sleigh rides and sing Christmas carols. Maybe we made too much noise back then.”

Dennis Brust, who has built a ranch on 115 acres along Routt County Road 129, said he thinks people should have the latitude to do what they want on their land.

“I think a lot of this boils down to individual property rights,” Brust said. “As we start taking rights away from ranchers in Routt County, we won’t be able to do anything with our land. I just hope and pray Ryan gets the permit that he’s due.”

Split in 2?

Land use planning consultant Peter Patten, who spoke on behalf of several neighbors opposed to the guest ranch, may have had the most influence on Thursday night’s hearing.

“My analysis brings me to this,” Patten said. “There are two kinds of applications wrapped into one,” in Wood’s application. “There’s a guest ranch, but then there’s the other aspect, which is special events, and includes fund-raising events, team building, weddings and private parties.”

At the end of the night, the members of the Planning Com­mis­sion seemed to agree.

“I’d like to split this proposal,” Ayer said. “I think the (impacts of) the guest ranch proposal can be mitigated satisfactorily. I would recommend that we table the special events section.”

Commissioner Alan Goldich urged Wood to consider a two-step approach himself.

“I like what you’ve done with your property,” Goldich said. “Why not start small? Do the guest ranch first. If it’s successful and there are no problems with neighbors, then go to special events, so people are eased into this.”

After the hearing, Wood said he had not prepared for the possibility that his application would be split into two parts.

Ayer decided against voting on the guest ranch and tabling the special events portion, and moved to table the entire project.

That carried unanimously.

— To reach Tom Ross, call (970) 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboattoday.com


beentheredonethat 6 years, 2 months ago

maybe Woods should get the hell out of Dodge, by leaving Routt County.


HiltonGultch 6 years, 2 months ago

Seriously Beenthere? That is just sad, mean spirited and hateful, sounds like it might be time for you to move on instead. You should research the history of this county before you start running folks off.


youseff 6 years, 2 months ago

So what the county is saying is that you can buy your land, put together a cohesive proposal that takes into account all restrictions and adheres to all of the local rules, and then still face the potential that you will not be granted the permissions needed to carry out that plan? This county needs to decided what it is going to be - a backer of smart growth that attracts people like Ryan who want to build a business and bring people to Steamboat (because those same people that come here for weddings and events will also fill beds and restaurants while they are here), or a true set of NIMBY residents that want to keep things the status quo. Either will work here - both sides present valid arguments, but we need to decide where we as a county stand and let everyone know before they invest here.


Scott Wedel 6 years, 2 months ago

The county has been quite strict over the years on those that have sought special event permits. A property owner has no right to expect to be granted a special events permit. It has been the exception to grant one.


Kelly Victory 6 years, 2 months ago

Youseff -- What the County is saying is that Ryan Wood did NOT put together a cohesive proposal that takes in to account all restrictions and adheres to all of the local rules -- And that is why it has been tabled until the many, many unanswered questions are addressed. What many of us have a problem with is the fact that when we bought our properties (long before Ryan Wood came to town) we reviewed the zoning and easements on the surrounding properties and were assured that no development of this sort could/would take place. We had every reason to expect that this wouldn't happen in our backyards since the zoning restrictions were in place when we decided to invest here -- To change that zoning now is just a tad problematic, don't you think? You are right that the county had better decide what approach it is going to take, because no one in their right mind will invest in this area if zoning regulations and conservation easements can be bought and sold like cattle...


blue_spruce 6 years, 2 months ago

"...Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust has confirmed the new buildings and activities Wood proposes are within the limits described in the conservation easement...."

hmmm...am i missing something?


heboprotagonist 6 years, 2 months ago

As a self professed big government liberal I have to say that I'm more than a little disgusted with the animosity I've seen w/r/t Ryan Wood and his proposal.

Regulations, conservation easements, event restrictions, etc. on personal land use are a fair and efficient way to keep a community's best interests in mind. However, the opposition to Mr. Woods proposals have nothing to do with the community as a whole. Rather, it seems that a few individuals have themselves confused with the majority. Steamboat seems to have a problem with this. (Using government regulations to disguise personal preferences) From everything I seen and read about the Sweetwater Ranch, the Wood family has fulfilled their obligations to the conservation easement and generally improved the land that he purchased.

I live in downtown Steamboat. Every rodeo, ball game, concert, free movie, etc. that takes place in Howlesen Park is practically broadcast into my living room. Sure, it'd be nice to sit in my backyard on summer nights and enjoy the sounds of soda creek or even maybe a little guitar from my neighbor. But it's not going to happen, and b/c these events benefit the community I don't want to change anything. Mr. Woods' neighbors need to realize that their relatively small sacrifices will benefit Steamboat by bringing in tourism dollars and perhaps reminding us what ranch life used to be in Steamboat before the trust fund babies and wall street types started building McMansions all over Routt county. And if those neighbors disagree about the size and scope of their priorities and sacrifices, well I suppose there is no accounting for taste.

I hope you get the go-ahead for this, Ryan, and I'll recommend all visiting friends and family stay there when come to Steamboat.


Scott Wedel 6 years, 2 months ago

Howelson and downtown was known and expected to exist for all that chose to live in Old Town.

For those out in the County, they expect to be neighbors of ranches and agriculture. There appears to be a general consensus that a guest ranch would have minimal impacts, but special events is a whole different matter. Neighbors of Bella Vista part way up Rabbit Ears have complained to the CC about noise from events there and that is on a highway.

Nobody want to ruin someone else's wedding, but people did not buy an expensive rural home in the county to be next to an event center.

Special events permits should be granted when it can be shown it will have minimal impacts upon the neighbors. It certainly appears that the neighbors are not satisfied that the current application would have minimal impacts. It would appear a location like this would require a well considered mitigation plan. There might be sites on the property that can hold events that have no impacts upon neighbors as long as they use shuttle vans for the guests and not a big parking lot. There might be sites around the property that have modest impacts and could be acceptable to the neighbors as long as that particular site holds only a couple of events.


Ken Reed 6 years, 2 months ago


The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust looks primarily at the value of the land and and financial impacts to the property. They don't take into consideration things like noise pollution, light pollution, wildlife impacts, etc. It's a bigger picture than simply having the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust approve it.


Ken Reed 6 years, 2 months ago


Your statement, "There appears to be a general consensus that a guest ranch would have minimal impacts, but special events is a whole different matter" is correct from my standpoint and I live just above the Sweetwood Ranch. That's why I think it is wise of the Planning Commission to potentially separate this into two SUPs.


heboprotagonist 6 years, 2 months ago

@Scott- I'm sure Mr. Woods didn't purchase his land so that he could be told what he could and could not do with it by overbearing neighbors. The county could enforce noise and light pollution levels based on hours of operation, but outright denial is one-sided and insular. It's just another example of the wealthy elite attempting to keep the power in their hands and us regular folks from tainting their "pristine existence". Don't you see, these people care nothing for Steamboat or the local economy. They've made their money, built their McMansions, and the rest of us can rot. They don't want tourism because it brings more money to the area and raises the standard of living for the middle-class. And God knows that if we empower the middle-class, they'll want to move into better neighborhoods. We certainly don't want those who inherited wealth living next to those who earned it.

As for what is expected, well things change. The earth revolves and communities evolve. To fight progress at every turn is stubborn and reactive. Perhaps these neighbors should get together w/ Mr. Wood away from public forums and hearings to engage in a reasonable conversation. I'm sure they could work out a mutually beneficial arrangement. (I see free steaks in their future if they play their cards right). Of course, they'll probably do what most wealthy entitled people do and just call their lawyers.


wzlover 6 years, 2 months ago

Perhaps a review of the county’s zoning code would be beneficial since it has been brought up by a number of posters here as well as those objecting at the Planning Commission meeting. I will assume everyone knows why we have zoning codes so I won’t go into that. Mr. Wood has proposed a guest ranch operation and the ability to host special events. Here is what the Routt County Zoning Regulations says about each:

A Guest Ranch is a use that is only allowed in AG (Agricultural Conservation) and AF (Agricultural and Forestry) zoning classifications and only after obtaining a Special Use Permit. Guest Ranches are not permitted under any other zoning. There are many operating guest ranches in Routt County and by default they will all be on agricultural property. I would hope that no one has any objections to them. If you wanted to start a guest ranch you would not be able to do so unless your property was zoned agricultural.

Special Events are uses that are permitted in every zoning classification but only after obtaining a Minor Use Permit. This only makes sense due to the variations in what a particular special event use involves. This way they can be addressed individually and conditions placed on them relative to the proposed events. As the code says, “the permit must be granted upon proof that certain conditions and performance standards are met.”

Several neighbors have indicated that they only bought their properties after reviewing the zoning , that that they were assured that nothing like what Mr. Wood is proposing would take place and that what he is proposing is going to change zoning. Sorry to say it but they are either mistaken or were poorly advised. What Mr. Woods is proposing is exactly what the zoning code asks – he has made application for the required permits. Now that he has applied, our Planning Commission can do its job and place restrictions on the noise levels, hours, etc. that the use is allowed. And they will do it for this ranch just like they would for any other applicant in the county, whether they are part of a subdivision or surrounded by agricultural properties.

Irrespective of Mr. Woods proposal, it really chaps my hide when people get all upset and vocal without first understanding the facts. One final thought relating to the comments about guests signing around a campfire or the lights from a ranch headquarters. Instead of selfishly thinking about yourselves, think about the ranching families who built this county for a minute – how do you think they feel when their neighbor, a working ranch for 50+ years with agricultural zoning that DOES NOT allow a residential subdivision, IS REZONED and turned into 50 ranchettes with all the negative sights and sounds that go along with new homes, landscaped yards, paved driveways and barking dogs. What do you think that does to elk winter range, water contamination and the ability to see stars at night?


Scott Wedel 6 years, 2 months ago

Well, I think the situation can cut both ways. Sweetwood would hardly want to have a guest ranch with their guests hanging around a campfire while their neighbors have parties with high powered sound systems. Enforcing noise violations is hardly a friendly way to deal with situations. Especially when the police are being asked to shutdown someone's wedding party.

County has generally approved guest ranch facilities and I think that part of the operations should be approved if it doesn't require special variances.

County has made it very clear numerous times in the past that special events permits are not given out easily. They shot down one request because it's access was a private driveway across railroad tracks and said the stop sign was not adequate, that the owner would have to spend to have a crossing guard installed which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If the application truly did handle all issues and mitigate all concerns for the special events permit then it should be approved. But from the coverage, it does not look like the mitigation issues was as thorough as it has been for other special events applications.

Lastly, from personal observation, it appears that it is a lot easier to hope to hold special events than it is to get them. I think best solution, if it is legally possible, would be for Mr Wood to ask for a provisional special events permit to hold 2 or 3 events a year and see if he can actually book the events and see what impact they have.


heboprotagonist 6 years, 2 months ago

@Scott- That actually sounds reasonable. Split into two SUP's, one for 25 person guest ranch and another that allows (but limits) the special events to two or three/ year (and see if he can book them).

I wonder if someone wanted to host a wedding there, but the guest list was small (not more than the 25 staying at the ranch) would that still qualify as a "special event". What if the events were all 100% indoors? (Yeah, I know, kindof defeats the point of having an event out there, but still...)

Lastly, not trying to be difficult here, purely curious. Does the city have any special zoning laws or restrictions on timeshare houses, condo's, etc.? It seems that if I bought an expensive condo on the mountain I wouldn't want the neighbors to always have their unit rented out to loud, obnoxious tourist. This scenario would be even more offensive in old town.


Kelly Victory 6 years, 2 months ago

wzlover -- I can tell you that in the 8 years that I have lived on my property in what is now unfortunate proximity to Sweetwood Ranch, there has been an almost limitless ability to enjoy undisturbed and copious wildlife, peace and tranquility, and an awe-inspiring display of stars at night. This is largely a result of the conscientiousness of those on surrounding ranches, the respect we have all had for each other, and our acute awareness of the potential impact of lights, sound and other intrusions into the peaceful enjoyment of the area. In fact, in 8 years, the only significantly disruptive event that I can recall was Mr. Wood's wedding that took place on his ranch in August, 2009, when blaring band music and raucous wedding guests kept many of us awake until late into the night. To a person, we chalked it up to Mr. Wood's celebration of his own marriage, on his own property, and would never have considered complaining about it. Now, however, we face the prospect of re-living that experience every weekend in the summer as part of a commercial Special Use Permit. And that really chaps MY hide.


wzlover 6 years, 2 months ago

1Campbell, your position would be very legitimate if there was no established process for obtaining the necessary permits, which is obviously not the case. The whole point of the public approval process is to uncover the issues and strike a balance. Our county planning commissioners are very capable and I think you can feel assured that there will be reasonable times and noise levels set for the permit. If they are not met, then you can call the authorities and if they find that they are indeed not being met then the permit will be revoked. That is the most logical and fairest way to do it for those involved, whether it’s this particular instance or any other special permit application in the county. That is the whole point.


jk 6 years, 2 months ago

I have to laugh at all of these statements about wildlife impacts, when every other picture you see in this paper shows a moose or a herd of elk hanging out in town.


Ken Reed 6 years, 2 months ago


Having the DOW comment on wildlife impacts is just part of the process. It's more information to base a decision on for approval or denial of the Special Use Permit process. It's as simple as that. I think there's only one comment about wildlife impacts (from me), maybe two. But glad you had a good laugh.


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