Agritourism proposal sparks battle in Missouri Heights
September 4, 2012
MISSOURI HEIGHTS – Critics of a proposed agritourism business on a ranch in Missouri Heights say their opposition isn’t garden-variety angst over development in their backyard.
Some of the leaders of a neighborhood group said they want to prevent development of a resort at Dragonfly Ranch because it would spur commercialism in an area where it is inappropriate. Missouri Heights has rural, residential development and a handful of working ranches.
Alex and Laura Kim are proposing a different kind of business. They have applied to Eagle County to develop a facility on their 47-acre ranch that could host “farm-to-fork dinners” featuring local food, weddings, family reunions, corporate retreats and the like. Eight guest rooms would be open year-round by reservation. An enticing feature would be seasonal cooking and gardening classes on the property.
Their application said they want approval to host as many as 52 events per year, not to exceed two per week. As many as 26 events per year would have between 100 and 170 guests.
“There’s people herding cows,” said Lois Evans, a neighbor whose home overlooks Dragonfly Ranch. “(The Kims) want to herd people.”
Evans and neighbor Larry Aleamoni are part of a team that had collected 282 signatures in four days by Thursday on a petition opposing the Kims’ application. The group set up petition drives at strategic places in Missouri Heights, including a historic one-room schoolhouse and on the main ingress on the hill up El Jebel Road.
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Evans, a resident of Missouri Heights since the early 1980s, said she realizes the Kims have a right to develop their property. The ranch is currently zoned in a way that would allow them to develop home lots. Evans said she has always known development could occur there.
“We’re not resistant to change,” she said.
But the Kims’ proposal isn’t acceptable to many neighborhood residents because it strays from ranching or residential development, Evans said. Critics are particularly concerned about traffic heading up the county road to the venue and the nuisance from noise lifting out of the amphitheater where Dragonfly Ranch is located.
The proposal represents a commercialization that is out of character with Missouri Heights and would set a poor precedent, Aleamoni said.
“The key issue for most of the people is the change of use,” he said.
Residents aren’t simply being NIMBYs, which stands for “not in my back yard,” Evans said. They just are genuinely concerned that a commercial operation would ruin the peacefulness and rural character of the Eagle County portion of Missouri Heights.
“It’s not our backyard,” Evans said. “It’s our front yard. It impacts hundreds of people.”
The Kims’ application will be heard by the Roaring Fork Regional Planning Commission at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday in the Eagle County Community Building in El Jebel. A site visit will be held at the ranch at 2:30 p.m. The Planning Commission advises the county commissioners on land-use matters. The commissioners will make a final ruling on the Kims’ application.
The Kims’ ranch is in a stunning setting near the southern edge of Missouri Heights. There are grand views of Mount Sopris, Capitol Peak and surrounding jagged mountains. Most of the 47 acres are an irrigated pasture.
Repeated efforts by The Aspen Times to reach the Kims at the number listed in a telephone book failed. Their land-use planner, Doug Pratte, of The Land Studio, sent a letter to Eagle County on Aug. 21 that said the Kims met with their neighbors earlier in the summer to seek resolution to issues but found it hard to work with them.
“Most of the neighbors gathered at Dragonfly Ranch on July 17 to state their opposition to the application and provided little constructive criticism with which to refine it,” Pratte wrote. Nevertheless, the Kims revised their application to try to address concerns about traffic and noise, Pratte said.
The Kims agreed to provide a traffic study to show the impacts of their events on the narrow, twisting county road that climbs Missouri Heights from El Jebel. The Kims also are negotiating use of a parking lot in El Jebel on land owned by the Crawford family. Parking for as many as 50 vehicles would be provided in the valley floor, and shuttles would run guests to the ranch.
The Kims also agreed to end events by 11:30 p.m. and prohibit amplified music outdoors after 8 p.m.
Aleamoni said the revisions still don’t address the core issue – commercialization of Missouri Heights. He said neighbors have been unified on the issue and got organized to make sure their voice is heard by Eagle County officials.
Most of the people who had signed the petition as of Thursday live in Eagle County, according to Aleamoni. Other residents from the Garfield County section of Missouri Heights also signed, as did some Pitkin County residents.
The neighbors have hired attorney Tim Whitsitt to represent them. Aleamoni said the group’s technical opposition will center on the Midvalley Master Plan, a land-use planning document that guides Eagle County’s decisions. The plan, which is currently being revised, doesn’t contemplate commercial development in Missouri Heights in the old or new version, he said.
Evans said she regrets the proposal has turned residents of the area against the Kims.
“I totally do understand their dreams,” she said. “I feel bad that we’re doing this. I really do.”
However, the Kims’ plan shouldn’t be allowed to adversely affect so many people, Evans said. Letters written to Eagle County are running about 30-to-1 against the Kims’ proposal. There were three letters in support of their plan in Eagle County’s file on the project.