Durango Hot Springs will be allowed to remain open until 10 p.m. after the La Plata County Planning Commission modified a condition of approval that would have required the new owner of the historic hot springs at Trimble to close at 9 p.m.
The change came at a meeting Thursday night after county Planning Department staff rewrote the condition of approval after it became apparent planning commissioners could not support the staff-recommended closing time of 9 p.m., a closing time staff had insisted was a requirement of the land-use code.
Planning commissioners also agreed to the staff’s eliminating a condition of approval that would have limited sound during the day to 60 decibels and 55 decibels at night. Staff members said the condition was based on state statute, and effectively the limitation would remain in place because the hot springs would still have to abide by state law.
Co-owner Bryan Yearout had asked to remain open until 11 p.m., noting that in more than three decades of operation, Trimble Hot Springs had never received a complaint about noise or operating beyond 10 p.m. or even 11 p.m. in summer.
“Our clients hesitantly agree to these conditions drafted by staff in order to get this project moving forward,” said Dan Burkhart, with Burkhart Planning & Permitting, representing Durango Hot Springs.
The Planning Commission had pondered continuing the hearing for a Class 1 permit, but Burkhart said a further delay of two weeks would hold up the project and cause scheduling difficulties with contractors and subcontractors lined up for work.
Yearout and the other owners, Dan Carter and his son, Kurt, have said they plan to invest $10 million in the aging hot springs at Trimble over the next 10 years.
The approval for a Class 1 permit allows the trio to move forward with development of 16 new geothermal pools and add 7,356 square feet of additional building space and other amenities to the operation located at 6475 County Road 203.
Burkhart noted 221 letters of support of the Durango Hot Springs had been received by the county and none of the neighbors had voiced concerns about the operational hours or noise.
Shirley Dills, an adjacent homeowner to the north, said, “I think this is a situation where you need to make an exception based on how this business has operated in the past.”
She noted the new owners have been responsive to neighbors, and she believes they will comply with rules limiting operations to either 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., and either of those closing times would have been acceptable to her.
Dave Rathbun, general manager of Purgatory Resort, called the hot springs an iconic natural resource for the north Animas Valley and “to stifle that by some rules that look good on paper when you hold up the use of the property for generations doesn’t make sense. Just use a little common sense.”
Robert Nelson, who moved to Durango about a year ago after a 20-year career in hotels and hospitality in Florida and Hawaii, said tourist destinations can never have enough anchors, and the hot springs was on par with the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Purgatory Resort as a regional draw.
He backed the hot springs’ request for longer operating hours and more lax sound restrictions.
“The improvement of an iconic anchor is so important for this community, it’s hard to quantify it,” he said.
The rewrite and deletion of conditions of approval came despite advice from assistant county attorney Ashley Powell that Planning Department staff members had accurately interpreted the application of the land-use code.
In addition, Neal Starkebaum, community development director for La Plata County, told The Durango Herald earlier this month that planning commissioners did not have the power to modify or eliminate conditions of approval based on the land-use code.
Commissioners Mike Scieszka and Charly Minkler had backed allowing operations to extend until 11 p.m., or at least allowing soaking in geothermal pools until 11 p.m. with noise-making activities like concerts ending at 9:30 p.m.
However, when other commissioners balked at allowing operations to extend beyond 10 p.m., they agreed to accept the reworked condition of approval allowing operations until 10 p.m.