Sanders Ranch won’t sue Garco |

Sanders Ranch won’t sue Garco

Heather McGregor

Sanders Ranch developer George Hanlon does not intend to sue Garfield County in the wake of Tuesday’s defeat of a massive development proposal for the ranch.

“We never intended to sue the county, and we don’t want to focus on the negative,” said Hanlon’s representative, attorney Jim Lochhead, following Garfield County’s refusal this week to rezone the ranch for Hanlon’s proposed residential and commercial project.

Hanlon sought approval from Garfield County for 561 dwellings and 300,000 square feet of commercial space on his 280-acre ranch midway between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.

Meanwhile, the Roaring Crystal Alliance and government leaders in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs were basking in the glow of victory Wednesday after mounting a successful opposition campaign to the proposal.

Roaring Crystal Alliance organizer Calvin Lee estimated that 500 to 600 people showed up for all or parts of the 14-hour public hearing on Tuesday, and 400 signed up to speak or donate their three minutes of allotted time to address commissioners to others.

“We were able to tap into people’s passionate sentiments about not allowing strip development between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale,” Lee said. “That was an astounding display of people coming out to express their opinions. It’s a testament to the uniqueness of our valley and how people are concerned about our community.”

In the end, Garfield County commissioners John Martin, Walt Stowe and Larry McCown voted 3-0 to deny the proposal.

“It was a very wise decision, an example of good government in action,” said Glenwood Springs City Councilwoman Jean Martensen.

“I truly was stunned it was unanimous, and I was very pleased it was. That decision sent out a message to all developers, to the planning commission, and to those of us who have governments to run,” she said. The county’s planning commission had recommended approval of the proposal.

“I really feel the county commissioners did the right thing,” said Carbondale Mayor Randy Vanderhurst. “They can’t really vote on a project like that based on emotion. They need to do it based on legality.

“And between Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and the Roaring Crystal Alliance, everybody understood that. People worked hard to collect the facts, rather than just go on emotion,” he added.

Lee said the last-minute opposition by Sopris Restaurant owner Kurt Wigger, who complained that Hanlon backed out of an agreement to buy the restaurant, helped too.

“Given the methods used by Sanders Ranch, which were out of the ordinary, it was predictable that they would step over themselves. And that’s exactly what happened with Kurt Wigger,” Lee said.

In the wake of the denial, Lochhead said Hanlon and his investors will “need to make some decisions about what’s going to happen on that property.

“I don’t think there was any doubt that the residential portion was in compliance,” he said, referring to Garfield County’s Comprehensive Plan.

“The issue was the mixed [commercial and residential] use area. The county commissioners obviously made their findings, so that’s the word,” Lochhead said.

“We need to assess what we heard. There was a lot of sentiment about growth in general, and its impacts on the valley, the community, and a general frustration with issues like affordable housing and transportation.

“But I’m not sure that going back to two-acre zoning is the solution,” Lochhead said, referring to the present zoning on Sanders.

“We’re really in a terrible dilemma. We don’t want to see the valley in wall-to-wall growth and development. We want to see the land used in a responsible way.

“Two-acre lots is not a good use of that property, but a large number of people said that’s acceptable,” he said.

Lochhead said this may be a good time to reconsider the idea of an open-space tax – a proposal that Glenwood Springs voters have turned down twice.

“It’s easy to oppose things. Let’s turn this into something we can say `yes’ to. There’s got to be a way to tap into this whole outpouring,” Lochhead said.

“This made people realize they do have a voice,” Martensen said, “and I hope they exercise it more frequently.”

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