Exclusive 9-hole golf course gets nod of approval from Routt County Planning Commission
Routt County Planning Commission voted with little dissent Thursday night to recommend approval of a permit for an innovative and exclusive nine-hole golf course on 132-acre Windwalker Ranch, which straddles the Yampa River about six miles south of Steamboat Springs. But that doesn’t mean the vote came easily.
The favorable vote, which included a water body setback permit for a suspension bridge over the river that will link the two sections of the golf course, came after nearly three hours of discussion at 11:43 p.m. In the end, Commissioner Andy Benjamin, who voted to enable the bridge, cast the lone vote against the golf course permit.
But there was no objection from the neighbors, including longtime rancher Gerald Brenner.
“After looking at the plans and speaking to the people doing the project, I don’t have any issues with it,” Brenner said. “I’m much happier with what they are planning compared to what the previous owners were planning (which included a large number of homes).”
The project must still go to the Board of County Commissioners for consideration of final approval.
Peter Patten — a land use planner consulting for the ownership group that paid $17.65 million for the historic cattle ranch in 2012, told Planning Commission he prefers to refer to the project as a “golf amenity” instead of a nine-hole golf course because of its ability to squeeze those nine holes out of three fairway “complexes” and just five shared greens on 23 acres.
“It’s much more compact and has much less impact than a golf course,” Patten said. “It’s an innovative idea of golf course design. There will be no cars, no parking lot, no clubhouse and incredibly low use.”
Only the eight owners, their families and guests will have access to the course. And to date, no more than one family has been staying at the sequestered lodge and cabins on the ranch at any given time, Patten added.
The bridge, which was opposed by Planning Director Chad Phillips, will link the first tee and ninth green on the north side of the river with the rest of the compact golf course on the south side. Phillips was insistent that county regulations did not give him leeway to approve the required water body setback because the owners had an alternative to cross the river on their property. Golfers at Windwalker could avoid the need to build a bridge that impinged on the riparian environment along the river by driving to the other side of the river, via Colorado Highway 131 and Routt County Road 18, about a 2.5-mile trip by car, Phillips said.
Planning Commissioner Bob Baker asked the golf course development team if they hadn’t considered solving the bridge issue simply by building the entire golf course on the south side of the river.
Marsh Benson, a consultant for Windwalker and director of building and grounds for Augusta National Golf Course, told Baker that the noted golf course architect Tom Fazio had studied just that possibility, but couldn’t make it work.
“We did 20 routing studies with Tom Fazio, and just like you guys, we were looking at at the effects on the hayfields, as well as the playability. We looked at the whole property, and we felt like environmentally, and protecting the wetlands, utilizing that corner of the property made the most sense.”
Steamboat Springs Attorney Bob Weiss, representing the owners, persuaded Planning Commission that county regulations allow for exceptions to waterbody setback constraints if a case can be made that the riparian environment would actually be stronger as a result. Weiss pointed out that the Windwalker owners own another 50-acre parcel on the south side of the river, which represents a buildable lot. They are entitled to access the building lot via a bridge, even if it encroaches on the riparian zone, he added.
Weiss said his clients would permanently waive access to that building lot in exchange for the right to build the golf course bridge. In addition, they would spend $100,000 to improve the riparian zone along the river.
“Our argument is that you, Planning Commission, have the discretion to apply good judgement and approve this because it’s better for the environment to let us build the bridge,” Weiss said.
Ultimately, his logic prevailed.
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