Developer: 'Friends' falls short

Group trying to preserve Elkins Meadow hasn't met asking price yet

— The committee trying to protect Elkins Meadow from development is a few million dollars short of its goal, the owner of the parcel said Monday.

Paul Franklin, the Chicago-based developer whose firm owns the 104-acre parcel and is interested in putting 20 luxury homesites on it, said he can wait no longer to begin plans for development. His firm, the Wharton Group, plans to present its plans for the site on Fish Creek Falls Road to the city planning department within the next two weeks, he said.

Today marks the deadline Franklin set for the group to come up with the money.

Franklin said that unless the group can come up with the rest of the money from a big investor in the next few days, the project will move ahead. But he wasn't counting on the group coming through.

"At some point I have to say no," he said. "That's why we have deadlines."

The conservation group was able to come up with about $1 million, well short of the asking price of $4 million, Franklin said.

Members of the group, called the Friends of Fish Creek Falls Meadow, would not confirm or deny Franklin's contribution figures but said they were still asking for donations and were receiving more money every day.

Kyle Cox said the Friends group is still confident it will be able to raise the money in the near future and is continuing to negotiate with potential contributors.

"He agreed to let us finish with those negotiations," Cox said. "It's not over yet."

Franklin met with the group on Saturday to discuss the options for the site and said he came to the conclusion that he had to start planning the development.

Franklin was willing to sell the parcel at cost to the group after paying $3.8 million this summer to the Elkins family, based on county assessor's records.

The parcel offers exquisite views and contains critical habitat for elk and mule deer herds. The aspen- and conifer-covered hillsides on the property, in addition to the animal habitat, make it one of the most significant sites in the Fish Creek Falls area, according to the city planning department.

The group had hoped, with the help of the Yampa Valley Land Trust and the city, to link a trail system on the property to trails in the federally managed Fish Creek Falls area. The land would be protected by a conservation easement.

Many of the people in the group live near the parcel, though they said it was important that the entire community get involved.

The meadow, owned for many years by the Elkins family, which kept cattle on the property, is used by cross country skiers who are members of the Steamboat Ski Touring and Snow Shoeing Center and is particularly visible on the way to Fish Creek Falls.

Development at Elkins Meadow is still dependent on city approval.

Franklin has already brought a conceptual plan for the site complete with a video showcasing 3,500- to 5,000-square-foot luxury homes before the city Planning Commission and the City Council. Although the council did note changes would probably have to be made, including a further clustering of homes, the developer was generally praised for minimizing the overall impact to the property. With the capability for one home per acre in the development, the developer could legally have attempted to fill much more of the field with houses.

Still, the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan designates Elkins Meadow as having an agricultural/rural residential land use, which calls for a very low density of homes. It is actually the only parcel of land within the city limits that has that designation.

And while it is in the city, it is also across the street from county land, which is cut primarily into 35-acre parcels.

Franklin said the developers tweaked the application to make it meet more of the city's wishes, though they did not cut out any lots.

Franklin owns a piece of county land across the street from the proposed development. He said he has no intentions of ruining his or his neighbors' views nor impeding on wildlife in the area a statement with which Steve Elkins agreed in endorsing the project. Franklin added he is still looking at ways to preserve as much of the land as possible.

Franklin said he is also interested in giving the public access to the meadow on three trails, one of which would be built alongside the road that would run through the development.

But the Friends group is worried the land will now be available primarily for the owners of the homesites and not for the rest of the community. In addition, they are worried the views of the meadow and animal habitat will be ruined by the large homes.

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