In late 1985, it didn’t take long for the old Valley Journal to speculate about the impacts of a possible RV resort at the south-end of town.
“Maybe we’ll get a clothing store that sells white belts and white shoes,” wrote Valley Journal editor Michael Paludan. “Maybe we’ll get a Furr’s Cafeteria … Carbondale’s out-of-control stray cats will be chased out of town by the massive influx of Chihuahuas.”
Here is what prompted Paludan’s speculation: a seasonal RV resort for Arizona-based snowbirds, consisting of up to 2,100 spaces on about 400 acres with a golf course and other amenities. “Snowbirds” were expected to spend about eight months in Arizona, then roll their RVs to cooler summer climes, such as Colorado.
The possible RV resort would be built on the former Gray Ranch on Highway 133 (now River Valley Ranch). At a Planning and Zoning meeting held before a packed house at the fire station, the crowd seemed evenly divided on whether the project, to be phased in over 10 years, would be good for the town. Discussions ran from August 1985 until the developers pulled the plug without submitting a formal application in January 1986.
A page-three headline in the Valley Journal first caught everyone’s attention. The “major” recreational vehicle resort could bring thousands of new people to town for several months. The newspaper reported that, traditionally, the residents are senior citizens, and the resort would be similar to ones that house thousands of senior citizens in Arizona cities such as Mesa. “It’s not like the KOA in Basalt,” town planner Davis Farrar told the VJ.
A junket, paid for by the developers, consisting of town officials, staffers and the press, flew to Mesa RV resorts later in August. Regarding their fact-finding mission, trustee Hank Busby asked whether the trip could take place in December, while trustee John Foulkrod said the trip was fine “as long as they don’t end up in a bar.”
The junketeers learned that RV resorts differ from RV parks because their amenities often include golf courses, game rooms, swimming pools, laundry facilities and more. An RV report promoter and developer, Bob Falls, compared the RV resort experience to a cruise ship. “They are in it for the socialization,” Falls told the VJ. “That includes light recreation, games, pot luck dinners and the like.”
As of the P&Z meeting in late August, the developers — local businessmen Mike Deer, Ross Jeffery, Bill Bolitho, Richard Stephenson and David Walker — hadn’t submitted a proposal but had discussed the possible project with staff. KDNK aired the public meeting, which kicked off with a 45-minute presentation by local landscape architect Ron Liston. In the public discussion that ensued, one supporter from Marble said the RV resort would be “one of the greatest things that has hit Carbondale.” It could turn Carbondale into a tourist town, with a “Western village theme.” An opponent noted the town’s quiet atmosphere would be disrupted and that traffic impacts would “congest the downtown area.”
A week after that meeting, the president of the Carbondale Economic Development Corp. suggested the RV resort would bring positive and negative impacts to the town. In concluding his opinion piece in the VJ, he envisioned a summer-time Carbondale with hundreds of RVs cruising around town all day and taking up parking spaces, plus hundreds of RV owners who’d bring their regular vehicles to town. He concluded, “many Carbondale residents would likely experience four months of frustration every year.”
By the fall of 1985, a Valley Journal headline read: “RV resort application delayed.” The primary reason for the delay, according to a developer’s spokesman, was the fact “ … most of the partners don’t have experience in developments and need to understand the process and costs involved.”
A later VJ headline read: “RV resort chances lessen, decision comes next week.” In the article, developer Mike Deer said he and his partners had already spent $60,000 on the project with another $50,000 expected. He also pointed out that even if the town trustees approved Crystal River Ranch Resort, there was no guarantee a citizen referendum wouldn’t overturn the approval.
The final VJ headline read: “RV resort dies under fears of citizen referendum threat.” The article added some new information. Readers learned the developers had been in negotiation to buy the property from Chicago-owner Richard Gray, who already had the zoning to build 1,100 units on the property (granted in 1982) and wasn’t willing to risk it. “There really isn’t any more story to tell,” Deer told the Valley Journal.