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School sells Polston for RV resort

Posted: Friday, May 10th, 2013

From left, Alamosa resident Karen Lemke, Rio Grande Healthy Living Park project leader Luette Frost, SLV Local Food Coalition Director Liza Marron, and Adams State student life coordinator Aaron Miltenburger, rear center, listen to the school board make its decision to sell the Polston property to Dan Russell. Those in support of the healthy living park wore green and donned stickers saying, “The healthy living park loves our schools.” Courier photo by Lauren Krizansky

Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA — After hearing two Polston property visions, the Alamosa Board of Education (ABOE) moved in a special meeting Thursday morning to sell local businessman Dan Russell the parcel to realize his RV resort dream.

The ABOE voted six to one to seal the sales deal with Russell, who will pay $500,000 for the 38-acre property with water rights that was recently appraised for $755,000. The Trust for Public Lands (TPL), a California-based non-profit public benefit corporation representing the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition, offered to pay the appraised amount for the parcel to create the Rio Grande Healthy Living Park. Russell and the ABOE are expected to close the sale in August.

ABOE Official Neil Hammer cast the only dissenting vote after the school district leaders emerged from a timely executive session that followed the presentations.

“The difference in price would be a great benefit to educate our children,” Hammer said about the $250,000 loss. “It would help us.”

The money, which is earmarked for capital improvements, was one of many factors the ABOE took into consideration before making the decision.

“I appreciate both parties and the ideas, thoughts and passions they have for each project,” said ABOE President Bill Van Gieson. “It’s tough when the weight of the community’s direction falls on the shoulders of the school board.”

According to Russell’s calculations, his RV resort will generate $50,000 in property taxes annually in addition to upwards of $2 million locally spent tourist dollars.

“This makes the land taxable and it will support future school needs,” Russell said. “This is a commitment to support our community.”

Russell’s property interest is founded in improving Alamosa’s economic state through providing a “destination” and access to the preexisting Alamosa Ranch/Cole Park area through an expanded parking area and RV resort. He said such a development, located on the corner of Highway 17 and Highway 160, would allow people immediate opportunities to explore the city and its natural settings while raising the tax base.

His preliminary plans include creating 300 parking spaces near Cole Park’s Rio Grande River footbridge and roughly 200 RV lots. They also include a land exchange with the City of Alamosa, a private fishing pond, the ability for golfers to drive their carts to Cattails and solutions to impending challenges from the East Alamosa Water and Sanitation District that include tap fees.

His plan, however, will require working with the city to accommodate some components like driving a golf cart on the levees and public roadways, which ordinances do not currently permit.

“I am working with the city to get them on board,” Russell said before the ABOE took its vote. “This is an opportunity for the community to make money.”

TLP wanted to acquire the property to develop the healthy living park based on similar projects across the state and nationwide. The park would have provided access to the Alamosa Ranch via bike and walking trails. It would have also potentially included quarter acre farm plots to encourage new farmer development; community gardens and greenhouses; a multi-purpose building with possible kitchen space, classrooms and a food distribution warehouse; outdoor events space; amphitheater; theme gardens; outdoor classroom space; picnic tables; a wetlands preservation site; a traditional water uses education site; a sites of the San Luis Valley playground; and exercise stations.

TPL project manager Wade Shelton explained to the ABOE that transforming the idle parcel into a healthy living park would boost property values within walking distance 15 percent, protect natural resources and improve the community’s health. The Polston property, he said, was “unique” and one of the best opportunities he has seen in the state to develop in such a manner because of its size and water rights.

“In Colorado, water is usually a limiting factor,” Shelton said. “Here, we don’t have that problem.”

He added, “There is an opportunity to be a trailblazer. If this moves forward, we believe it will generate national attention and increase tourism.”

TPL would have made the proposed healthy living park a reality with grant dollars from the Colorado Health Foundation and Great Outdoors Colorado in addition to securing some private funding from both inside and outside the Valley.

“This is the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of parks, playground equipment and food production,” Shelton said. “It would set Alamosa apart.”

Besides Shelton’s Thursday morning presentation, the ABOE received a number of letters in support of the healthy living park for a number of reasons.

“The healthy living park is a place for open space, but most importantly it is an economic incubator for the students and alumni of San Luis Valley schools to continue their learning, a place where they can shape their own path to economic success and subsequent contribution to the local tax base,” wrote Patrick O’Neill, an Agro Engineering, Inc. agronomist. “We have a burgeoning local foods movement across the United States, including in the San Luis Valley – we will need the space to nurture the development of this economy, the Polston property being ideal for just such a venture.”

Alamosa resident Karen Lemke expressed concern for Alamosa’s future generations and the food growing opportunities the property has provided for the struggling Guatemalan community.

“I think it is important to consider all of the people impacted by the decision,” Lemke wrote. "We must certainly think of the children of Alamosa—what outcome will promise the most for their future?  It is also important to remember that Alamosa is a diverse community—our children come from different economic backgrounds, different ethnic backgrounds."

Although the Polston property is no longer an option, the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition might have access to other abandoned lands. The Alamosa County Economic Development/Chamber of Commerce has identified areas that could give the coalition another chance to bring a healthy living park to the Valley.

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