In a suspenseful three-hour meeting, Clear Creek County commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday night in favor of re-approving a request to rezone 287 acres on Fall River Road for a future snowboard and ski park
About 35 people braved blowing snow and a fierce headwind to be in the audience at the Georgetown Community Center.
The vote split along the same lines as a previous vote, with Commissioners Harry Dale and Kevin O’Malley voting to approve and Joan Drury voting against changing the zoning from residential to commercial-recreational.
Michael Coors, president of Eclipse Snow Park, looked relieved at the outcome.
“I don’t think we can make everybody happy, but we’ll do our best to be a good corporate citizen,” he said.
The board last voted on the matter Jan. 31 but was forced to repeat the process after District Judge Russell Granger ruled the board failed to give sufficient public notice of the hearing continuation.
Before Tuesday’s hearing, Commissioner O’Malley read a statement saying that although he is a real estate agent, he has no listings in the St. Mary’s area and would refer any prospects to other Realtors if anyone contacted him. O’Malley has been criticized for having a conflict of interest because he is a Realtor and works in Clear Creek County.
Residents of the St. Mary’s Glacier Homeowners Group turned out in force to oppose the development, which they said would attract younger people with bad driving habits to a treacherous mountain road.
“I’m back where I was before after spending three days going over the record,” Drury said. “I went up there recently to have another look. I always hated Fall River Road. I think it’s the most dangerous road in the county. I really can’t support this. eeThe quality-of-life issues are large. Sometimes doing the right thing is not always written in the law.”
Dale reluctantly agreed to approve the rezoning application on the condition that Coors shows the road danger can somehow be reduced during the next stage of the approval process known as development review.
“Recreationists tend to be rather reckless drivers,” he said. “I’m really having a hard time inviting not just average drivers but also reckless drivers on that road.”
O’Malley said the entrepreneurs should be given a chance to work on transportation issues and bring a solution back to the board during the development review process. “This comes down to the road and whether the additional impacts can be mitigated,” he said.
Of the 15 people who spoke during the two-hour-long public hearing portion of the meeting, about a dozen comments were from homeowners on Fall River Road.
They objected to exposing more drivers to the steep terrain, accident-caused gridlock, snow-making noise, floodlights, environmental damage, lack of water and generally spoiling the quietude and natural beauty that attracted them. Three people spoke positively of the economic and recreational benefits.
“It’s only 300 acres. It’s not Keystone,” said St. Mary’s resident Glen Clark. ”They’ll be lucky to have 100 to 200 cars a day ee . We tried it last winter, and the thing I noticed is the people who were having fun were the kids. It’s going to be a family place and a small snow park,” Clark said.
Others, like Omer Humble, who has owned land in St. Mary’s since the ‘60s, saw the dark side. “There are hundreds of families ee . We all have invested a considerable amount of money to enjoy the environment and the tranquility of nature. If this is approved, our lifestyle will be affected for the worse,” Humble said.
“Nine miles off I-70 on a treacherous road is not a place to satisfy a childhood desire to own a ski area,” he said.
“I thought it would be an OK place to take my daughters. Then I looked on the website, and I saw the demographic is young males 16 to 25, not families. ee Having been a young male I remember it was about who could get to the ski area the fastest. Given thr potential for tragedy, I think it’s a bad idea. Maybe Coors could buy Loveland instead.”
Marshall Ulrich of the homeowners group shared a video of vans and pickup trucks having difficulty negotiating switchbacks on Fall River Road.
“I agree there is no way to mitigate. Shuttles won’t work, so the whole project should be denied,” Ulrich said.
Heather Ulrich stated Coors hadn’t filed a land-swap proposal with the U.S. Forest Service and wouldn’t be allowed to use about 100 acres for the snow park as promised. A Coors spokesman said there was a proposal on file at the local ranger office in Idaho Springs.
The snow park would be located on Fall River Road 9 miles off Interstate 70 at 10,000 feet at the site of the former St. Mary’s Ski Area, which closed in 1986.
The land in question is owned by a company controlled by the Coors family.