Durango Hot Springs owners initially believed revitalizing the aging, historic Trimble Hot Springs would create for them a solid business and provide a new lease on life for an attraction in the Animas Valley that needed freshening.
However, Bryan Yearout’s and Dan Carter’s purchase of the hot springs and their five-year plan to invest $10 million in the operation required them to seek a new land-use permit, and they now worry conditions for approval will cut into profitability, perhaps even their ability to keep the business viable.
Yearout said conditions of approval that require the hot springs to close at 9 p.m. and to maintain a noise limitation of between 55 decibels and 60 decibels 25 feet from the property line are more stringent than any historical requirements ever imposed on Trimble.
He wonders why Durango Hot Springs can’t operate under the historically accepted practices at the springs, where a business has operated since 1882 when Frank Trimble built a two-story hotel.
“They want us to abide by 60 decibels, 55 at nighttime, and you know a normal conversation is 65 decibels. We’re a venue for music, we’ve got a swimming pool for kids. And they’ve kind of just taken away 60 to 70% of our business by wanting us to adhere to these noise criteria that nobody else has to adhere to,” Yearout said.
Neal Starkebaum, community development director for La Plata County, said as new owners planning substantial renovation and expansion, Yearout and Carter are required to apply for a land-use permit, and anything that was a nonconforming use from past operations will have to be brought into conformance. That includes hours of operation and noise limitations for outdoor businesses, which are covered by the code as buffering issues.
“Those standards are intended to provide buffering for adjacent properties to mitigate or alleviate any potential adverse impacts to the surrounding landowners,” Starkebaum said. “The existing land-use code requires businesses adjacent to lots with a dwelling to cease operations by 9 p.m. and also set limits for the amount of sound that can be created on the business site.”
Yearout maintains the county is applying a residential standard in the land-use code to its commercial operation. But Starkebaum said the current code is clear and has buffering standards in place for any business operating adjacent to homes.
In discussions with the county before he purchased the hot springs, Yearout said, “Everybody knew that we were going to maintain the same operating hours as Trimble Hot Springs.”
He said Trimble operated until 10 p.m. and occasionally 11 p.m. in the summer.
“We’ve got very much kind of a bait and switch going on with all of the things that we’ve got in our business plan,” he said. “Historically, with Trimble, for at least the last 35 years, since 1987, they had a swimming pool, they had swimming lessons. They had a stage here with the swimming pool. When Ruedi Bear owned the property, they had a whole actual business that was related to music.”
Even more dire, Yearout said the land-use permit would require Durango Hot Springs to adhere to the new land-use code’s rule, which hasn’t yet been adopted, that an outdoor business close at 7 p.m. when the new code becomes effective.
Starkebaum noted under the new land-use code, Yearout and Carter would have the ability to negotiate closing hours with the La Plata County Planning Commission and, in appeal, to the county commissioners. He said the 7 p.m. closing time under the new code would be negotiable.
However, under the current land-use code, Starkebaum said neither the Planning Commission nor the county commissioners have the ability to alter or remove conditions of use required by current code.
“The (county commissioners) as well as the Planning Commission are subject to the standards within the land-use code,” he said.
Durango Hot Springs has a public hearing before the La Plata County Planning Commission scheduled for June 25, and Starkebaum noted that the county is recommending approval of the land-use permit. But Yearout and Carter are not sure the business will be viable with the noise and hours-of-operation restrictions.
The cause of Durango Hot Springs has now entered the La Plata County commission race, with at least one candidate, Independent Jack Turner, backing the hot springs.
Turner said in an email: “The hot springs have been a commercial operation, historic icon, and a local treasure since the 1800s. I cannot imagine being asked to exit the hot springs, pools, etc., at 8:55 p.m. (or 6:55 p.m.) while the sun is still up. What does that say about common sense?”