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Dear Editor,

I attended the Planning and Zoning meeting in person on 11/2/21 regarding the sketch plan for the controversial Timber Creek Ranch Proposal – 65+ homes on less than 2 acres, on individual wells and septic, across the street from Frantz Lake on CR 160.

There were several unsettling things I witnessed while sitting silently in the back of the room for four hours.

First, the developer Walt Harder and Joe Deluca of Crabtree Group brought two proposed plans to the P & Z and told them it was an ultimatum, they must choose one or the other because the development will happen no matter what. The two plans made several members of P & Z noticeably uncomfortable, one commented the conduct of the developer was not appropriate, yet they decided to proceed with the review although it was clearly the wrong course of action.

The developers said they have a right to develop, and laughably tried to pass off their plan as a solution to the housing crisis. Keep in mind these homes will cost well over $750k. It’s a brazen lie to say Timber Creek Ranch will be any kind of solution to the housing crisis. What member of our local workforce can afford a home that price? Frankly, the entire thing reeks of snake oil.

[Planning Commissioner] Bill Baker suggested the plan review be tabled until the county has a new Land Use Code, that incorporates the Comprehensive plan. He suggested that they “slow down” and get input from the Housing Authority and Housing Trust first. He said “We are allowed to use the system to benefit us in terms of what to do to serve the whole county” And this was the right suggestion for such a situation. Bill Baker saw an opportunity to correct course, and I admire him for that, it’s a sign of a true leader.

[Planing Commissioner] Anderson Horne stated several times that the landowner has a right to develop, and is not held accountable for the burden of the community. So then who is? His comment suggests that developers are the only stakeholders in this community, which couldn’t be more wrong. I am a stakeholder as a resident, taxpayer, and employer. My neighbors are stakeholders, the cyclists that use CR 160 as a designated bike route are stakeholders, and so are the waitstaff and service workers hoping to one day afford a home here.

Instead of holding developers accountable, the burden has been shifted upon the rest of us. We will live among seas of mini-mansions that sit empty half the year. We will watch our community shrivel, and our businesses shutter as housing inventory continues to be prioritized for second homeowners that finance the property via Short Term Rental.

What is the rush to build a modern ghost town? What is the rush to plow into the countryside for housing inventory that is not needed? What is the rush to line the pockets of developers that fly out of Salida on their private jet at the end of the week?

I left the meeting that night angry and disappointed. The overall rude tone of P & Z towards the public was disdainful. I was there for every minute – I watched Anderson Horne bring a community member to tears with his condescending and brash attitude, while real estate agent Karin Adams, developers Walt Harder and Joe Deluca were treated with nothing but respect.

What P & Z seem to fail to realize is that the community sits through the brain damage of these meetings because we CARE. We are stakeholders truly invested in the future of this county.

As I watched the sunrise this morning, the brilliant pinks on the mountainside, the dawn chorus of birds, I realized it’s not anger I’m feeling. It’s grief. I’m grieving the slow death of this community. The death of the beautiful surroundings, the rural character, the dark night skies, and quiet roads – at the hands of greedy developers and overextended commissioners. It’s truly a travesty because we’ve had so many opportunities to build something great, but insist upon bulldozing our way into the future at warp speed with little regard for its impact. Rest In Peace, Chaffee County.

Shae Whitney

Salida