Expect more events, a new restaurant, bakery and expanded tours at the James Ranch.
Last week, the La Plata County Planning Commission unanimously approved an application from the James family for a Class II land-use permit that would allow expanded uses on 2.6 acres of the family’s approximately 420-acre farm.
The 2.6-acre area in question is located where the existing parking lot and Harvest Grille and Greens market is situated, about 12 miles north of Durango off U.S. Highway 550.
As part of the approval, James Ranch can now add a restaurant (that may operate year-round), bakery, market, expanded tours and more events. It also can build a new 4,800-square-foot structure and repurpose existing buildings.
Dan James, speaking to the Planning Commission on Thursday, said the family made the request to bolster its ranch in the Animas Valley, which prides itself on a horticulture/agritourism business model.
The 22-member family has several ventures that depend on the property, including a dairy farm, a pastured egg and tree farm, a cattle operation, gardens, a small market and a food stand.
However, the James family in recent years has had more requests to host weddings, concerts and other events. This application, the family said, will allow a more diverse range of income, and in turn, offer more chances for the public to enjoy the land.
According to the application submitted to the county, the James family says guest capacity is expected to remain around 60 people during normal business hours. That number may jump up to 100 people for special events.
If the family expects an event that would exceed 100 people, they would have to apply for a special-use permit with the county.
At a public hearing Thursday, most residents were in support of approving the James family’s request for expansion, though several in attendance brought up concerns with traffic and noise.
The county does not have a noise ordinance, but conditions of approval attached to the James family application do have standards for how loud and how late events can occur on the property.
In worst-case scenarios, Planning Commissioner Jim Tencza said a permit can be revoked if conditions of approval are not met. But in his history on the Planning Commission, Tencza said that’s never had to happen.
Dan James told planning commissioners that he has handed out his personal phone number in case neighbors have issues with the noise level of events. Neighbors said James has turned down the volume during events, even while the event is in progress, meeting their satisfaction.
“We’re trying to have as little impact on their lives as possible, but it is going to take some work, and we’re committed to do that,” James said Thursday.
Any issues with traffic must be directed toward the Colorado Department of Transportation, Tencza said. Several residents were concerned about increased traffic to James Ranch, which is accessed on U.S. Highway 550.
Calls to the Colorado Department of Transportation were not immediately returned.
Ultimately, the Planning Commission approved the project 5-0. Tencza said the expansion will help bring more jobs to the county, support local businesses and generate more county tax revenue.
“I think it’s good for the community,” Tencza said. “It is a family-run business, and they seem sympathetic with the impacts they may create.”
Kay and David James purchased the land north of Durango in 1961. David James, who runs the cattle operation, said each child is responsible for his or her own business venture, which has been a successful model for the family.
“It’s wonderful the kids have returned,” Dave James said Monday. “You can’t do this without your children.”
The James family over the past several years has placed the bulk of its 420-acre farm under a conservation easement, which limits the amount of development allowed and ensures agricultural use.
The family has said previously it left a small portion, this 2.6-acre tract, open for development.