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County proceeds with plans for 95 acres

By Lindsey Bright

Described as an important juncture in the journey to develop the county-owned 95 acres just south of the fairgrounds on U.S. 84, the Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to approve the Master Plan for the County-Owned 95 Acres during Tuesday’s regular meeting.

This approval came in spite of recent concern for the endangered Pagosa skyrocket population located on the 95-acre parcel.

In the beginning of September, a letter was written by the Colorado Field Supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the local program manager for Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), the organization to which Archuleta County had applied for grant monies to develop this acreage into a park. The letter from Fish and Wildlife stated that the development of this 95-acre parcel would cause the population of the Pagosa skyrocket to suffer fragmentation, with the remaining populations experiencing higher levels of stress than they currently do. When the question of the Pagosa skyrocket’s protection was brought up during the public comment section of the meeting, County Administrator Greg Schulte was quick to respond that the plan to develop the 95 acres would continue.

Schulte clarified that, while the flower is endangered, it is not under federal regulation when on private land.

“The uses and proposed development of the land are all legally permissible and community-supported uses,” Schulte said. Noting the Fish and Wildlife Service has no authority or ability to regulate the property, Schulte explained that the county was not required to work with the agency in the process of designing the development of the acreage. Schulte said the county did not have to allow Fish and Wildlife Service personnel on to the acreage to survey the Pagosa skyrocket, and there was no requirement that the county incorporate the findings of the survey into a Master Plan.

“There is no requirement that we preserve anything,” Schulte said.

In an interview with SUN staff after the meeting, Schulte said that the Master Plan was adjusted to preserve the areas where the survey showed the highest density of the endangered flower. The Master Plan has designated 31.25 percent of the total acres as preservation areas.

County attorney Todd Starr also pointed out during the regular meeting that if looked at in monetary terms, the county was making a $250,000 contribution to the preservation of the Pagosa skyrocket.

“The only thing the Fish and Wildlife would accept is not developing the land at all,” Schulte said.

As previously reported in The SUN, Archuleta County sent a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service expressing a sense of betrayal following Fish and Wildlife’s attempt to interfere with the country’s efforts to secure grant funding.

The county has not received an official response.

The Master Plan, in addition to protecting acres sensitive to both wetlands and the Pagosa skyrocket, also implements several other ideas brought forth during the five public input sessions. The 95-acre park is purposed to include: tournament-level ball fields, a central plaza incorporating traditional park uses, trails, a dog park, bathrooms, parking, playground, community gardens and a large, flat grassy area to be used for various community events. On the adjacent property owned by the Western Heritage Event Center, a proposed indoor horse arena, horse fencing and event center have been proposed for construction.

“This plan really exemplifies a lot of what we talk about, which is relationships with county partners,” Commissioner Steve Wadley said.

The Master Plan, presented by Axel Bishop of Design Concepts, shows an estimated total construction cost of $13 million. Nearly half of that, however, is for the event center, indoor horse arena and horse fencing, which Bishop said would have outside funding sources. No sources were specified during the meeting.

“This is the way you plan parks. This is the way you plan amenities on county land,” Commissioner Michael Whiting said, then added that now is the time the board begin to ask the question, “What kind of operation cost will this create?”

“We have been very transparent during this process and involved the citizens,” commission chair Clifford Lucero said, adding, “This is very exciting.”

• Also during the meeting, Chirag Patel spoke on behalf of the Pagosa Springs Lodging Association requesting that $10,000 of lodger’s tax revenue to be used to more effectively market the online tool Book Direct. Patel said he hoped to get half of the funding from the town and half from the county. This request was made after Mary Jo Coulehan of the Chamber of Commerce presented the lodger’s tax report. The majority of this tax revenue is used to keep the Chamber’s two visitor centers functioning. However, at the moment, the operation of the uptown visitor center is pending a decision to be made by the Pagosa Community Development Corporation.

The board came to the consensus that this discussion would be more appropriate to hold during a budget work session, or at a regular meeting during which the budget is on the agenda.

This story was posted on November 14, 2012.