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Colorado Park Owners Get Reprieve, But Big Job Remains

December 6, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Camping at Drake Campground in Big Thompson Canyon, Fort Collins, Colo.

Jeff and Lori Shaffer are one step closer to reopening their Drake Campground near Fort Collins, Colo. However, the next step will be no easy journey.

The Larimer County commissioners on Monday (Dec. 5) bucked a staff recommendation and removed the “residential use only” clause from the parcel of land the Shaffers have owned and operated as a campground since 1983, the Loveland Reporter-Herald reported.

The action does not reopen the campground, which was shuttered in October because of a zoning violation. It simply removes a roadblock to allow the family to apply for special review and flood plain special review — costly and lengthy processes.

“It’s America, and people should have the right to a hearing,” said Commissioner Steve Johnson, summing up the shared opinion of all three elected officials.

However, the hearing process will require a thorough look at the property, which is in the floodway (at the corner of U.S. 34 and County Road 42), has steep slopes and has setback issues. The process will be difficult, Johnson noted, but the family deserves the opportunity to try.

Of major concern is the location in the floodway created after the deadly 1976 Big Thompson Flood.

“The reason we have flood plains is not to shut down economic development,” Johnson noted, “but to protect people from natural disasters. This is the site of one of the biggest natural disasters in the state.”

The Shaffers bought the property in 1983, not knowing of the residential-only clause on the deed. They continued to operate the campground for the subsequent 28 years, following a tradition documents date as far back as 1948 — well before the flood and the flood plain.

But unlike the next-door neighboring property, which was once owned by the Shaffers, the Drake Campground is not grandfathered in because of those three words on the plat: residential use only.

“You’ve got a plat note that trumps all of those years of prior use,” said Jeannine Haag, assistant county attorney.

That, according to the Shaffers and several community members and longtime campers who have come to their defense, just does not make sense. They say the campground, which operated and paid sales tax for 28 years until an anonymous complaint brought it to the attention of county staff, is vital to the economy of all the businesses up and down the Big Thompson Canyon.

“Are you going to shut down other businesses in the canyon in the floodway?” asked Drake resident Shirley Miller. “The highway is in the floodway. Are you going to shut that down? I think the county commissioners should be working to keep our businesses open, not closing them. The economy is bad enough.”

With a green light to apply for special review, the Shaffers must still find thousands of dollars to pay for the process with their main source of income — the campground — closed and no guarantees their application will be approved.

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