Eagle County commissioners will meet in El Jebel on Tuesday to vote on a proposal that would bring agritourism to Missouri Heights.
Residents Eric and Laura Kim applied last year to begin using their 46-acre Dragonfly Ranch to host “farm-to-fork” dinners on their property featuring local food, cooking classes and eight guest rooms available for rent. The boutique foodie resort would host weddings and other events in an idyllic mountain setting, not unlike the Pine Creek Cookhouse or the T-Lazy-7 Ranch, both near Aspen.
The plans would also add a “resort recreation facility” building to the property, which could accommodate up to 130 guests for special events.
The project requires the commissioners’ approval because it would change the zoning of the property from residential, ranching and home business uses, to a commercial resort zone. That change, much to the Kims’ surprise, has brought vocal opposition from some neighbors in the quiet area.
“You’d think we were fracking,” Laura Kim said of the opposition Friday. “Really? Farm-to-fork dinners and cooking classes are going to ruin the neighborhood?”
Some neighbors have balked at bringing commercial uses to Missouri Heights, and argued that traffic and noise from guests would desecrate its peaceful environment. More than 70 letters have flooded into Eagle County in advance of this week’s meeting, with many neighbors opposing it, while others are praising the idea as exemplary sustainable tourism.
“It would change our lives considerably and forever,” Anita Witt, a 55-year resident of Upper Cattle Creek Road wrote the commissioners. “With lights, noise, traffic, [it] will set a [precedent] for more of the same.”
Realtor Greg Hunter, who lives in the neighborhood and sells homes there, warned that the noise impact would diminish property values in the area.
“If the Kims want to be in the entertainment business, then they need to move to a parcel that already allows that use,” he wrote.
People buy homes in the area, Hunter wrote, because of its non-commercial zoning and lack of traffic and noise. Blue Creek Trail resident Martin Manosevitz echoed that concern in a letter to the commissioners.
“If I wanted to be in a commercial resort area, I would have located at a golf-residential complex that had commercial components,” he wrote.
Neighbor Annie Brown put it more bluntly: “A nightclub is not a dude ranch.”
Meanwhile, Martha Cochran, director of the Aspen Valley Land Trust, wrote the commissioners as a private citizen and endorsed the idea.
“Continuation and innovation in agriculture are important factors in the Roaring Fork Valley’s heritage and future,” she wrote. “This plan provides an on-the-ground example of economic development using sustainable practices. I urge your support of this unusual and exciting opportunity for Eagle County.”
The application states Dragonfly would host up to 26 events per year, and never more than two per week. The Kims commissioned a traffic study for the project, and have offered to cap the maximum number of vehicles allowed on the property at 30. Strict curfews for events, they propose, would minimize the effect of noise.
The contentious debate over the proposal, Laura Kim said, was unexpected.
“It’s been hard and emotional for us at times,” she said.
The property includes rare views of Mount Sopris and the Elk Mountains, which Kim said she’s eager to share. Other than some public hiking from Missouri Heights to Basalt Mountain and equestrian trails in the area, the public has limited access to the neighborhood.
“It would be great to have people be able to come up here and enjoy it,” Kim said. “Not just drive by it.”
She noted that the change in zoning would prevent the Dragonfly from being subdivided and save it from further development. Under the current zoning, the ranch could host four new homesites on four 10-acre plots. The property currently holds 35 acres of hay fields and hosts the Kims’ Fusion Catering home business.
Government entities have been divided over the proposal.
In September, the Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission — which is an advisory board handling land-use issues in the unincorporated Eagle County portions of the valley — unanimously recommended denial of the Dragonfly.
“[T]he application will adversely affect the public health, safety and welfare and the proposed use is not in tune with the immediately adjacent and nearby neighborhood properties,” read the commission’s recommendation.
Eagle County’s planning department, however, found the proposal meets the minimum requirements for approval, including its compatibly with neighborhood uses.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife concluded wildlife impacts would be “minimal” from the project, contrary to some neighbors’ assertions in letters to the county.
The town of Basalt’s Planning and Zoning Commission opposed Dragonfly, calling it an “interesting idea” in a memo to Eagle County, but concluding “P&Z does not believe it is compatible with the land uses in the immediate area.” Dragonfly falls inside the town of Basalt’s 3-mile planning area, but outside of its official urban growth boundary.
Eagle County’s public health department, meanwhile, endorsed the project and rezoning, embracing it as a model of sustainable tourism.
“The proposal, in focusing on sustainable, positive stewardship of the land, farm-to-fork initiatives and access to recreational opportunities, falls directly in line with Eagle County Public Health Department’s community health promotion initiatives to encourage healthy eating and active living,” health department manager Karen Koenemann wrote to county planners during their review.
It’s now the Eagle County commissioners’ task to weigh those points of view and vote on the Dragonfly. The meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Eagle County Building in El Jebel.
“I really hope that the commissioners will see this for the goodness that it is,” Laura Kim said.