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This affects every single neighborhood in this town and Estes Valley, because, if it can happen here on RE-1 zoned property, it can happen to you and your neighborhood on ANY residentially owned property. Randy Hunt, the town planner was recently quoted in the Trail Gazette that he does not agree with spot zoning…going in to areas and changing the existing zoning for individual development projects. This attempt to locate a blatantly commercial facility in an RE-1 zoned area eliminates the need for the Town to ever spot zone, because the precedent will be set whereby the Town can grant approval for just about anything on any piece of property. No zoning problems for the developers or Town ever again! This begs the question: what’s the use of having zones?

The following will help answer some of the questions you may have based on what you’ve heard from the Town or Trustees.

Where is the proposed site located? (from the town information sheet)
On an approx. 160-acre property owned by Yakutat Corporation (Sombrero Stables), east of Dry Gulch Road – see site plan (see the Map) for further information. The entire property is in unincorporated Larimer County, except a small southern section containing the main Sombrero Ranch operation, which is inside the Town of Estes Park. Dry Gulch Road itself is inside the Town up to a point just north of the project proposed entrance driveway

What is the subject property’s zoning? (from Town information sheet)
This property is zoned RE-1 (Rural Estate Residential) along with most of the land east of Dry Gulch Road. According to the Estes Valley Development Code:

RE-1 Rural Estate Zoning District. This district is established to protect and preserve some of the most rural areas of the Estes Valley in which significant view sheds, woodlands, rock outcroppings, ridgelines, other sensitive environmental areas and low-density residential development comprise the predominant land use pattern. This zone implements the "Rural Estate (RE-1)" future land use designation contained in the Comprehensive Plan. The district regulations allow for the development of low-density single-family residential uses, generally at densities no greater than one (1) dwelling unit per ten (10) acres.

Does RE-1 zoning allow a commercial use in a residential zoning district?
No, it does not! There has been a gross misinterpretation of code by the Town Planners. The Development Code says RE-1 zoned property is for residential and also recreational use, such as a park, playgrounds, ballfields etc. as long as no entrance fee is collected, not commercial use. (insert ref to EV Devel Code). This project will build a ticket office, storage shed, and restrooms on the site It will have a parking lot to hold 19 cars.

The code is very clear in distinguishing between recreational and commercial use…this proposal is clearly commercial: it involves collecting fees from the public for use of an acknowledged amusement fried. This is not allowed on RE-1 land. In addition, Town representatives have admitted that, once a project with less than 20 parking spaces is approved, the owner may construct as many additional parking spaces as he chooses without a new permit or application.

Why has staff elected to classify this project as “Recreation Facility” and not as “Commercial Recreation Outdoor”?

We can only speculate because meetings with Town management have resulted only in a brick-wall like insistence that its interpretation of the code is correct, while efforts to engage Town trustees in a discussion have been rebuffed. One reason may be that the land owner, Cody Walker, is a town trustee with many political connections so that Town staff are reluctant to oppose him. The trustees claim for various technical reasons that they have no jurisdiction over this project. However, the trustees are ultimately responsible for the activities of the Town Administrator who in turn, hires and oversees staff (insert ref to Trustees charter here).

The Town claims the land is already being used as commercial property since horse-back trail rides occur on it. They claim a coaster, with an estimated 240 screaming people per hour, is a “modest intensification” of a horse-back trail ride. Based on the code (mis)interpretations outlined above and pursuing this line of reasoning , it is entirely possible that approval of this commercial amusement facility could easily result in stair step approvals of additional commercial projects until the entire parcel is a full-blown amusement park: hello 6 Flags over Estes Park!

The Town claims the land owner should have the right to do whatever he deems necessary “in accord with the fundamental zoning”, which once again, does not allow for commercial use. This also ignores a clear Development Code provision (Section 1.8) that overrides this “common law” concept by stating that, in the event of a conflict in Code provisions (which this is NOT, in fact) “the more restrictive provision shall govern”. In this case that would be residential provisions. It appears that the Town is quietly ignoring Section 1.8 to allow this project to go forward.

Why doesn’t this proposal require a public hearing?

The Development Code requires that all projects involving “Major alterations that also entail alteration to the number of parking spaces, the configuration of parking, ingress, egress, water, sewer, drainage or lighting on the premises” in excess of 10,000 square feet must be subject to reviews by the Estes Valley Planning Commission (EVPC). It’s quite obvious that 19 parking spaces plus the land on which the ticket office, rest rooms etc. are to be built plus the access road plus the land on which the coaster’s supporting structure will be constructed represent land alternations in excess of 10,000 square feet. Further, the project requires just 19 parking spots to be constructed, strangely just below the threshold of 21 spots that also requires a review by the EVPC. The project application makes it quite clear that additional parking spots must be provided offsite to make the project viable. It appears to us that the Town management has deliberately avoided these provisions of the Code in order to avoid a review by the EVPD and the attendant opportunity for public input. THE PUBLIC SHOULD BE HEARD, as is required for a project of this type with such huge implications for the entire Estes Valley.

Does this property meet all legal requirements for Development Plan approval?

We think not. The development code has been incorrectly interpreted to suit the personal needs of one of our Town Trustees whose board colleagues have found themselves unable to intervene in the process even though several of them have very serious misgivings about the way Town staff has handled the project.

Has this project been proceeding in a non-transparent way?

We think so. The Town staff appears to have gone out of its way to develop a twisted interpretation of Code provisions that would demand a review by the EPVC with its attendant opportunity for public input.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, the Town has failed to bring to the public’s attention the single biggest issue of concern that will affect the entire Estes Valley Development district - the opening of the door to commercial recreational facilities in each and every residential zone as a permitted use by right.

Members of our group and others have approached Cody Walker requesting neighborhood meetings to have him address residents’ concerns But to no avail. He recently cancelled a meeting with a small group of citizens who requested to sit down and discuss the project and their concerns. When asked if he would then request Town staff to delay the project approval process until such a meeting could be held, he claimed that he could not interfere with that process. A little odd given that he is the project applicant!! There has been little transparency.

The Town FAQ paper states “public outreach is an important value, but it comes at a financial cost.” “There is also the practical matter of overwhelming others with too much information.” Are these good enough reasons to not be transparent? This is a pivotal development project with massive implications for the future character of the Estes Valley and the wellbeing of its citizens. As such we very much doubt the public would be overwhelmed with information. And, how much does it cost to hold public hearings??

We have reason to believe that additional phases of this project are contemplated. While the Town website no longer suggests that the coaster is “phase 1”, as we have shown above, all indications are that, once the coaster project is approved, precedent will have been set for the owner to create an extended amusement park on residential land; not to mention for other property owners in the valley to do likewise.

The entire process by which the Town staff has handled this development application has been dubious, if not downright subversive, while the Trustees have found themselves unable to intervene in the process.

Does the Town Board of Trustees have a role to play in the Coaster project?

The Mayor and Town Trustees have consisently told us that they have no jurisdiction over the project because it is on land outside town limits. This judgment is apparently based on an interpretation of the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) between the Town and Larimer County concerning land development issues. While the IGA document is ambiguous, we believe the Town's interpretation of this document is as flawed as the one they have made about the development code itself and has been deliberately concocted to prevent the Trustees getting involved in the project process.

Regardless of how the IGA is interpreted, the Governance Policies of the Board of Trustees make it quite clear that they may intervene in any decision that "in the opinion of the majority of the Board concerns a substantial policy determination and/or is of a controversial nature with the public that warrants Board involvement". This project and the related flawed development code interpretation represent not only in effect a "policy decision" because of their potential broad impact on land development in the entire Estes Valley, but also represent one of the most controversial issues seen in the valley in many years. The Governance Policies also state "The Trustees - not the staff - bear full and direct responsibility for the process and products of governance, just as they bear accountability for any authority and performance expectations delegated to others".

Four of the Trustees (a majority) have very serious doubts about the way this project has been handled by Town staff and have indicated strong sympathy for our position. We have repeatedly asked them to require that the approval process be put on hold and an independent review panel appointed. They have consistently said they are unable to do so. The terms of the Trustee Governance Policies noted above make it quite clear that they can and should intervene in this process but it appears they been intimidated by the Mayor and the Town attorney and told that they may face some sort of legal action if they do so. It's a pretty sad state of affairs when a majority of our elected representatives feel obliged to stand idly by and watch one of their very own colleagues furthers his own personal interests with a project based on a totally flawed interpretation of the development code made by Town staff - the very people that the Trustees are supposed to manage!

What about economic development?

The jobs that will allegedly be created by the coaster project will be low paying and likely part-time/seasonal, or even just for tips as are the existing trail guides at the Sombrero Ranch. The project will therefore likely exacerbate employee housing and staffing shortages with little benefit to the community. This is not the kind of development the recent Avalanche economic development study identified as helping the valley’s economy. The coaster will introduce safety and traffic issues and generate excessive noise. The traffic study is four years old, does not account for the increased town traffic resulting from increased National Park use, and was done well before the Falcon Ridge housing complex was built.

How will this impact the quality of life for local neighbors?

Think of the estimated 240 screaming coaster riders each hour from 9:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. Think of the traffic impact, think of the millions of dollars that will be wiped off property values , not only in the project’s neighborhood but perhaps all over town if commercial amusement rides start popping up all over town as owners of residentially zoned land start seizing the opportunity to make a few bucks in their own backyard! What’s next: a go kart track or even a full amusement park in YOUR backyard? The scenarios are painful to contemplate.

What does Cody Walker say about all of this?

NOTHING…Cody has refused to meet with any neighbors or concerned citizens!!!

Trustee Cody Walker campaigned on transparency. The way this project is being handled is anything but transparent. It represents a direct conflict of interest. It’s hard to see that Town staff can perform their service to the community in an environment where they might feel pressured by an influential serving trustee.

Below are some examples of comments made by Cody Walker on recent occasions

Town Trustee Study Session, March 13, 2018

When considering the location of the proposed performing arts center in Stanley Park (currently RV parking and unattractive storage of trucks, fencing, excess concrete, etc.), Cody Rex Walker’s comment was, “Does everything have to be developed?
Isn’t it okay or good to sometimes just do nothing?”

In a Trail Gazette article while campaigning Cody responded to the following questions…

"What are the three major issues facing Estes Park and how would you address each one?""

-> "Workforce housing. Not one single decision will be made without asking the question: How does this help Estes address the issue of work force housing? Not low income housing; workforce housing. Provide solutions not road blocks. Get people yes or no answers."

"Should a trustee ever recuse himself or herself during board discussions and why?"

-> "There is no reason a trustee should ever recuse himself from the discussion, just the final vote, as long as that relationship is disclosed. We need to know how our trustees stand on every issue so we can decide if we want them to represent us again. If a trustee wants to be recused from voting, he should state his reason and the other board members should vote to allow or disallow the request."

"Is it important for a trustee to be an advocate of local businesses?"

-> "The trustee needs to be an advocate for all the citizens not just one group or another. Some citizens, own and work for a local business, more citizens do not. I'll advocate for the entire interest. Business is critical but isn't the only thing in Estes Park. There is the environment, wildlife, quality of residential life, schools, and being a town that we know our neighbors. Those things are just as important as local business."

"What kind of local economy would you like to see in the next four years, next eight years?""

-> "Economy in four years strengthened by citizen's trust in its town board to invest in this town: Fueled by permits for home improvements, and auxiliary dwelling: local contractors hired to improve current structures without increasing footprint. Constant incentives to address this work force housing crisis. Economy in four years: People that work in Estes Park live and spend in Estes Park. An economy fueled by a work force that can also be our neighbors."

In an April 2018 post-election Trail Gazette article, Cody wrote:

->"The message for me was clear; take care of our families, protect our community and look after our seniors. How do I do that? I better figure that out if I want the privilege of serving the voters next time around. If I don't they will find someone who will."

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Today's Date: (Sunday, December, 3rd 2023)