Compromise key to city land swap

ALAMOSA — Working up a compromise the council said would probably never satisfy everyone, the Alamosa city council on Wednesday authorized the city manager to sign a land exchange agreement with Rio Bravo RV Resort developers.

The agreement will trade 70 acres of city-owned ranch property, pictured above in green, for about 33 acres of private property owned by the developers, in blue. The trade is exclusively in land only, with no cash as part of the exchange. Developers will still be required to go through a Planned Unit Development (PUD) for the RV resort.

The council’s action Wednesday night was not unanimous with Councilman Michael Carson voting against the land exchange and Councilors Jan Vigil, Charles Griego, Liz Thomas Hensley, Kristina Daniel and Mayor Ty Coleman voting for it. Councilman David Broyles was absent and excused.

Numerous residents spoke about the land exchange and the RV resort in general with comments mixed in favor and opposed.

Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks said the city had solicited and received significant public input on this subject since developers first presented their proposal to the council during a January 24 work session. In addition to city meetings and comments accepted online, the developers had met with the public in various settings as well, she said. She said the city council was not required to hold a public hearing on the land exchange agenda item but opted to do so.

Brooks related that the proposal had changed from Rio Bravo’s initial request to purchase 35 acres of city property to combine with 70 acres of private property to host a 500-space RV resort off North River Road, the access road into the development. The city accepted requests for proposals for the 35 acres of city property the developers were interested in, but no proposals were submitted other than Rio Bravo’s.

Since that time Brooks said the developers have shown flexibility as a result of public and council input and have scaled back the proposal to about 325 spaces and negotiated a land swap instead of purchase. Brooks said the land exchange alternative was presented during a February 28 meeting and favored by the majority of the residents who attended that meeting.

“From the beginning we have received significant input from the public both in support and against the proposal,” Brooks said.

She said the city created a designated page on the city website so residents could stay updated on this project and comment on it.

She said the city and developers negotiated the current land exchange, which was not quite everything the city wanted. There was another piece of property city staff hoped could part of the swap but were not able to include.

She said developers’ intentions for the private property the developers still own in that area of the Cottonwood Subdivision is for residential uses, as it is platted.

In addition to the land swap, the agreement places deed restrictions on the property, for example outlining what would be permitted and prohibited should the RV resort not succeed. For example, mineral extraction or a long-term mobile home park would not be allowed, but other uses allowable in agricultural zoning would be.

Brooks added that the land exchange does not mean the RV resort is automatically approved.

“If council authorizes this agreement, Rio Bravo still needs to go through the PUD process to develop the property,” she said.

That process would include traffic and other studies, which might also include environmental studies. The city can set restrictions for the development during the PUD process, Brooks added. For example, the city council could limit the amount of time RV’s could park in the resort, such as four weeks.

The developers would also have to pay for infrastructure and utilities associated with the RV resort, but the city staff does not see a problem with the resort hooking into city water and sewer, according to Brooks.

Councilors share reasons for Rio Bravo trade

Alamosa city councilors shared their thoughts and reasoning behind approving a land exchange involving city-owned property and private land owned by developers of the proposed Rio Bravo RV Resort.

Councilor Kristina Daniel thanked those who commented on this matter and said the council took all of the input into account. “I appreciate people caring so much about our community,” she said.

She said the city and developers had worked hard on coming to a compromise, and the developers will still have to meet the requirements for a PUD for the resort to be approved. She added that she believed this proposal would benefit the downtown area, businesses and the general economy.

She said she favored the land swap because of the benefits it will provide for the city.

Councilor Liz Thomas Hensley agreed. She said not everyone would get what they want out of this.

“What this is truly becoming is a compromise and everybody is giving some and we are also getting something,” she said. “There has to be that point of compromise, and I think that’s where we are at.”

She said the property the city will acquire with the swap has an intrinsic value that cannot be measured totally in dollars.

Hensley agreed that a plan for the ranch going forward would be important.

Michael Carson, who cast the sole dissenting vote on the land exchange matter, said “I personally feel that my role here is to do what the citizens of Alamosa want and I don’t necessarily agree the voice of opposition has been quieter than the voice for it. I do think the citizens have clearly stated it is something they do not want, to trade public land for private land.”

Carson said he did not believe the city should swap public land for private land.

“I do think this is a bad swap,” he said.

Councilman Charles Griego, who was born and raised in the community, talked about how each ward in the city had items the residents might wish were not there, like the train through Wards 2 and 3 or Alta Fuels trucks in his ward or the jail, detox and community corrections in Ward 4 or the traffic from the university in the surrounding neighborhoods, but people have come to live with those situations in their neighborhoods because of the benefit to the overall community and economy.

“People come together for economic development,” he said.

Griego added that the city faced some criticism when it bought the ranch because people said that money could have been put into streets. At the time, however, the city saved a lot of money in bringing in dirt for the levee work that was underway at the time.

Griego also said the city does not rely so much on property taxes as sales taxes and if Alamosa does not bring in new sales tax revenues, it will not continue to be the hub of the Valley.

“I am in favor of this because of the new dollars it is going to bring into our community,” he said.

Councilor Jan Vigil said the city has asked the developers to change and amend their plans, and they have over and over again, and the result is a compromise.

“If we can get the most people on the same page then it’s a good thing to do, and I think we get that done here,” he said.

He believed that this land swap would benefit the city. He also agreed that a plan for the ranch was important going forward, and everyone should be included in that process.

Alamosa Mayor Ty Coleman said the city council is a team, and even if everyone does not always agree, each councilor is working for the best interest of the entire city. He said the council and staff have looked at different options and considered many factors including trails, community impact, neighbors, financial impact and other considerations.

“As a council we have to take into consideration business opportunities when they have the potential to stimulate our economy, increase jobs and provide growth for our community,” Coleman said.

He said the city staff would do everything in its power to make sure this project proves its financial stability, but only time will tell how profitable it will be. He said business owners see this as a way to capitalize on tourism, to help make Alamosa a destination city and to increase traffic and income for downtown businesses.

He said the council sees this as compromise that will benefit the majority of the community.

Supports view Rio Bravo as beneficial

Several speakers at the Rio Bravo land exchange public hearing Wednesday evening supported the exchange and the RV resort that will be enabled as a result.

Brian Puccerella supported the land swap. “I really appreciate any effort to protect that area by the river,” he said. “I think that’s a really important area that makes Alamosa beautiful and unique.”

He added that the $150,000 difference in appraised value did not take into account the long-term impact of being able to protect that area with its trails.

Ron Brink said, “I support this … If we don’t bring in new money we are in trouble … I think this is a good way to get some new money into this area. The taxes will be ongoing. We all need to be paying less taxes if we can. Let’s get it from somebody else.”

He said he has been involved in the recreational business in Colorado all of his adult life and has seen that no matter how bad the economy has been, “people still go on vacations.” He said he had made a good living as an outfitter, for example.

Aaron Miltenberger commended the city staff and council for their efforts in reaching a “phenomenal compromise,” and he believed the land exchange would benefit the residents.

“I think ultimately it’s going to be a benefit to our community to have that protected riparian zone,” he said.

He added that he personally was not a fan of an RV park, but he believed this was a workable compromise that would bring revenue to the community and protect some valuable resources.

Katie Dokson referred to the Great Sand Dunes National Park’s record visitor numbers and lack of RV spaces there and at existing campgrounds and said because there are not enough spaces here, visitors are staying in other communities. She said this would be an economic benefit to the community.

She added that she lived on Cascade, which is not that far from the proposed development. She said she believed RV owners would be smart enough to use Highway 17 as an entrance into the development, and she would welcome them coming into the downtown to spend money.

“I have four sons. I hope to be able to raise them to live in this town. If there’s no businesses they will have to leave,” she said.

She said her family comes from a small business background, and if Alamosa does not see more revenue, it will not thrive.

“I think it would be a wise decision to move forward with this,” she said.

Patrick Ortiz, who was born and raised in Alamosa, added, “I think this is the right decision for the future of Alamosa.” He said it was important for the city to protect the riparian corridor that the city will receive in this land exchange because it provides a place for residents to get outdoors and exercise and stay healthy.

Opponents share concerns, comments

Much of the opposition shared during Wednesday’s public hearing on the Rio Bravo RV Resort land exchange came from residents living near the proposed site.

Ron Simpson, vice president of the Cottonwood Homeowners Association, reiterated the residents’ concerns and opposition to the RV resort in the proposed location. He asked those in the audience from Cottonwood Estates to raise their hands, which reflected numerous members of the audience, and he asked how many of them favored the resort. None of them raised their hands.

Simpson addressed the council saying he wondered if they would raise their hands in support if they lived in that area. He added he did not think they would.

“Those are our homes out there,” he said. “They are important to us.”

Simpson thanked the council for the opportunity to provide input.

“We are citizens. We are your friends. We are your neighbors and we really have some concerns.”

Simpson said Cottonwood consists of about 150 residents, and he believed more than 95 percent of them were opposed to this project at this site.

Jason Defee, who moved here about a year ago to work at the hospital, said some of the attractions of the property he purchased were its isolation and surrounding open space. He said he was not opposed to an RV park in Alamosa, even though he did not know if it would bring in $12 million a year, “I am just opposed to the location … I think there are other places that could be considered.”

He added, “Once that city land is gone, it’s gone.”

Leslie Fleming, a lifelong resident of Alamosa, said she was initially concerned about the city setting a precedent in selling publicly owned property. Then she was surprised to hear the city was going to do a land swap, and the developer was going to benefit by $150,000 in greater land value.

“I am not opposed to economic development,” she said. “I think the San Luis Valley needs that, but I would hate for the city to give up one of its really true treasures on the ranch property.”

Frankie Will, who lives in East Alamosa but frequents the area where the resort is proposed, asked if the trade was contingent upon the PUD approval. Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks said the trade was not contingent on PUD approval, and the city was still OK with not owning this land if the RV resort did not go through because the land the city is receiving in this exchange is important to protecting trails and habitat.

“If it’s not a successful PUD, they will still own the property and it would still be zoned agricultural,” she said.

Will said she was concerned about the water and the effect this development would have on this riparian area.

She also questioned the viability of a 320-space RV park. She said when she visited South Carolina the only place she saw an RV park at 100 percent capacity was in Myrtle Beach, and she doubted that the RV park in Creede ever fills up, “and that’s a very nice one.”

She said she doubted a 320-space park in Alamosa would even reach half capacity. She said she believed an impact study needed to be conducted to see how many spaces really were needed. She said there are 40 spaces going in by the tracks and the greenhouse, which would fill some of the need.

Lee Grigsby shared concerns about increased traffic in that area where people bicycle and university students run.

He added, “It was never my intention to build a house in a development where I would be living next to an RV park.”

He questioned the sustainability of the proposal and suggested if the developers wanted an RV park, there was one for sale on the east edge of town that they could purchase.

Cottonwood resident Jim Fleming said he believed the proposed economic impact of the resort was overly optimistic, and the city should watch the outcome carefully.

Appraisal values questioned

Some of the concerns about the City of Alamosa/Rio Bravo land exchange revolved around the differences in value of the two pieces of property, which were appraised prior to the exchange proposal being presented to the Alamosa council.

The city-owned property was appraised at $350,000 and the privately owned property was appraised at $200,000.

“We were surprised the appraisals turned out the way they did,” Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks said. “We thought the appraisals would be reversed.”

Normally residentially zoned property, which is what the private land is zoned, appraises higher than agricultural, which is what the city ranch property is zoned, she explained. She added that the city needed the appraisals because some of the ranch property is being used as collateral for financing the city’s water augmentation plan, and the land exchange would affect the acreage involved.

Brooks said the property the city is receiving as part of the swap contains valuable trails, potential trails and vegetation, while the property the city is giving up is currently being used as range for cattle.

She added that the city would see economic development as a result of the RV park. Using an economic impact formula, Brooks estimated that the project would create a $7.4 million annual direct impact and a $12.7 million annual indirect impact on the economy in addition to the creation of 8.5 jobs.

She said previous studies have shown that an RV facility is needed in the Alamosa area. “Realizing this might not have been the spot some would have chosen, from an economic development perspective we feel this could be an important addition to the community,” Brooks said.

One of the audience members speaking during Wednesday’s public hearing said it seemed like the developers were realizing the benefit in the land exchange and should be willing to provide more of the acreage the city had requested.

Matthew Ikle said he was strongly opposed to the resort in that location. He said he was concerned about the difference in property values from the appraisals. He suggested the developer should pay the difference. That $150,000 “could be used to enhance the quality of life of all of Alamosa’s residents,” he said, “rather than … four developers.”

Paul Widhalm, who lives in Cottonwood Subdivision near the proposed RV resort, said he has lived here and paid taxes for here for many years, “and it seems to me the city is going to give $150,000 to three people who don’t even live in Alamosa, and I find that disturbing.”

Rosalie Martinez questioned the appraisal, especially why the private property was appraised so low. “We really feel the value was there, probably as much or more as Alamosa was trading.”

LeRoy Martinez, a fifth generation Valley resident, said he was a little disappointed with the appraisals and believed it was just common sense that residential would be more valuable. He said he believed the council members were smart enough to make good decisions about the ranch, but he encouraged them not place it under a conservation easement. “Don’t you ever lose control over it,” he advised.

Residents urge for ranch plan

Whatever happens with the Alamosa Ranch now, the City of Alamosa needs a plan for it in the future, several residents urged the council during Wednesday night’s public hearing on the Rio Bravo land exchange.

Mick Daniel talked about the importance of protecting open spaces and encouraged the city to develop a plan for the future for the open space on the ranch as soon as possible because there might be other developers interested in the ranch.

Julie Mordecai also encouraged the city to embark on a plan for the ranch from here forward. She said there might be areas that need to be developed, but she did not want to see it taken away piece by piece.

“Let’s be thoughtful, and let’s do it together and let’s have a real community process around it,” she said.

Mordecai added that the Colorado Health Foundation is going to pay for the plan, so she encouraged the city to move forward with it.

Leslie Fleming agreed that a plan needed to be developed to manage the ranch property but said it needed to be completed before moving forward with this development.

Dennis Lamb said there has been a ranch management plan since August of 2012, and it focused on preserving existing uses such as trails, wildlife and recreation. Many people use that area now, he added.

Lamb had concerns about increased water use from the development, especially if the Valley was facing some dry years like it did in 2002, and he wondered how busy the RV resort would be in the wintertime if it was open year round, as proposed.

“I would like to see this resort somewhere else,” Lamb said. “I am not opposed to this … but I don’t like this area here. There’s a lot going out there, a lot of people that use it.”

Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks said the city has already committed to doing a plan for the remaining parts of the ranch property, and that will get underway yet this year.