410-acre development would require road through protected tortoise reserve

West Diamond Valley Drive, near the northern boundary of a proposed 410-acre development that could include 700 new homes and require a road to be built through a small part of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, Diamond Valley, Utah, Sept. 30, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – A proposed 410-acre development near the north entrance of Snow Canyon State Park is proving contentious because it would require an access road that would cross the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, home of the threatened Mohave desert tortoise.

Map of a proposed access road into a new development south of Diamond Valley | Image courtesy of Washington County, St. George News
Map of a proposed access road into a new development south of Diamond Valley | Image courtesy of Washington County, St. George News | Click on image to enlarge

The 410-acre parcel borders West Diamond Valley Drive near the intersection with state Route 18, and extends south of the north entrance of Snow Canyon.

The property is owned by developer Kirk Willey and is located east of the Diamond Valley Cinder Cone and sandstone formations that line the east side of SR 18.

Developing the property would require a 2,158-foot road to be built across a small corner of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve to connect to SR 18.

Willey is proposing a private two-lane paved access road with a center median; however, getting approval for the road is proving difficult.

The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve was created 20 years ago to protect the endangered Mojave desert tortoise. The Habitat Conservation Plan set aside the 62,000-acre reserve while allowing development to continue on tortoise habitat in other areas of Washington County.

The Habitat Conservation Advisory Committee oversees the reserve and the recovery of the tortoise.

Desert tortoise, Santa Clara, Utah, March 5, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News
Desert tortoise, Santa Clara, Utah, March 5, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

Willey appealed to the Advisory Committee for approval of the road Tuesday but was not successful – yet.

It was the second month in a row Willey has appeared before the advisory committee. Willey told the committee he is both blessed and humbled by his ownership of the land.

“I feel a really keen sense of responsibility to take a very careful, a very meticulous approach to get this right,” Willey said.

Plans are for 700 one-third to one-half acre lots in a low-impact development that blends into the surrounding environment.

“As I lay it out, I want to take into account individual trees and individual rock outcroppings and my plan is to leave everything as in-place and undisturbed as possible,” Willey said.

At least one local resident objects to the proposal, however.

“Although this is a small area of the reserve, I feel it sets a bad precedent to allow a private citizen through the area,” Lisa Rutherford told the committee during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“We will be giving up public land for a gated road. It sets a very bad precedent for incremental chipping away of the Reserve, which was not intended for private development,” Rutherford said. The developer should be held to a lower density development which would not require a road, she said.

The road through the reserve is needed for Willey to continue with the development; Washington County fire code requires a second entrance if a development contains more than 30 homes.

Seven hundred homes are planned, and the property’s 1,500-foot frontage on the Diamond Valley Road is not wide enough to add another entrance and still comply with the fire code.

Willey asked the Washington County Planning Commission for a variance, or exception, to the requirement for a second access road, but was denied.

“You have reported there are 700 new homes planned for the development, which far exceeds the maximum number of homes to utilize only one access,” county planner Scott Messel wrote in a letter to Willey dated Sept. 26.

Diagram showing estimated emergency response times with and without a new road into a proposed development south of Diamond Valley | Image courtesy of Washington County, St. George News
Diagram showing estimated emergency response times with and without a new road into a proposed development south of Diamond Valley | Image courtesy of Washington County, St. George News | Click image to enlarge

In addition to compliance with fire code, the proposed road is needed for safety reasons. If the road is not built, it would take emergency personnel responding from St. George several extra minutes to reach residences in the development.

Benefit for tortoise?

From the Advisory Committee’s perspective, the issue boils down to whether the proposal is a net benefit to the desert tortoise, Larry Crist, who represents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the advisory committee, said.

While the site of the proposed road is not considered prime tortoise habitat by biologists, a new, paved road is not allowable under the current HCP agreement and would require an amendment to the document.

“I’m not prepared to vote for an amendment to allow the road without knowing whether it’s a benefit,” Crist said.

If the four-acre road were to be built, mitigation would be required – the impacted tortoise habitat must be replaced at a ratio of 5-1.

Willey has offered 11 acres of land in Leeds which adjoins the Reserve in addition to other property. The Leeds parcel adjoins the reserve and is believed by biologists to be much better tortoise habitat than Willey’s property, however, it will be analyzed by biologists to make sure.

The Technical Committee will analyze Willey’s proposal for mitigation and report their findings at the next advisory committee meeting Oct. 25.

A gamut of state and federal agencies

Because the proposed road crosses land managed by four different agencies, Willey has been busy acquiring the needed approvals.

Willey has received preliminary approval from the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation for the portion of the access road that runs across Snow Canyon State Park.

” … the Division does not believe that your current proposal constitutes a negative impact …,” to the park nor the visiting public, Division officials said in a letter to Willey.

Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration officials have also met with Willey about the proposed road.

“As long as SITLA would have access to its surrounding lands, SITLA is supportive of this road and feels that it would make its land holdings there more developable,” SITLA representative Aaron Langston wrote in a letter presented at the meeting,

Utah Department of Transportation has also given tentative approval for the proposed road; however, acceleration and deceleration lanes along with turn lanes may be required at the proposed intersection with SR 18.

Email: japplegate@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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31 Comments

  • Loyal Opposition October 1, 2016 at 9:43 am

    Your trying to tell me that in this day of all these scientific advances that way can’t be found to build the road without injuring the Desert Tortoises?

    • Bob October 1, 2016 at 1:47 pm

      how about a 5 billion dollar elevated roadway

  • Not_So_Much October 1, 2016 at 11:04 am

    Just say no.

  • hiker75 October 1, 2016 at 11:16 am

    Build a road around it.

  • .... October 1, 2016 at 11:29 am

    We are so blessed to be living in a community that takes pride in its natural wild life and will maintain a healthy discussion panel to see that nature is always protected. ..Praise the Lord

  • Lastdays October 1, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    “The issue boils down to whether the proposal is a net benefit to the desert”
    They invited several tortoises to the meeting to provide their input, But I guess those representatives were late and will have to reschedule.

  • St. G October 1, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    While over the years I hike all areas of the Reserve on almost a daily basis, I find most areas of the Reserve are severely underutilized. Use good sense, but use it. Build the road.

    • Bob October 1, 2016 at 3:56 pm

      how many mormon churches and strip malls can we fit on the preserve?

      • Bob October 1, 2016 at 3:58 pm

        don’t forget walmarts and costcos too, but we could fit at least a few hundred LDS meeting houses

  • ladybugavenger October 1, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    Did the jetsons not teach us anything? Hello, roads in the air….save the turtles

    • .... October 1, 2016 at 4:55 pm

      The Jetsons ? Heck yeah I leaned I want George Jetsons job. no stress there lol ! and I had a crush on Jane hubba. .hubba LOL !

  • wilbur October 1, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    Expect a LOT more of this s*** if the Northern Corridor is pushed through this area over to Leeds.

    Every Tom, Dick and Harry developer will suddenly have lots off the highway for those multi-million dollar homes and water-sucking golf courses.

    (Need to import Ninja Turtles to save the Preserve.)

    Ed. ellipses

    • .... October 1, 2016 at 4:50 pm

      Ha ha you got edited !

    • tcrider October 1, 2016 at 6:02 pm

      you forgot water for the multiple soccer fields nobody uses.

  • youreaphoney October 1, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    I think it’s a little funny and very hipocritical that some of the people that comment and voice their opinions against this are currently living in a home that use to be in a protected area for the tortoises(neiborhoods close to Tuacahn for instance). But heck, they already have their home and the damage has already been done, so let’s point fingers at everyone else and forget the fact that those same people are just as guilty.

    • .... October 1, 2016 at 5:00 pm

      Yep ! you got that right and every person that is making comments against this are the guilty ones. but it’s easier to live in their imaginary world and pretend nothing was ever destroyed for their comfort while Bob blames the LDS church for their members raising taxes. LOL !

  • Bowlinggreen123 October 1, 2016 at 6:18 pm

    Wasn’t this all supposed to be BLM land. Do we have to let the rich get richer just for the sake of a few homes?
    They are going to run into a lot of problems if they try to do this.

  • wilbur October 1, 2016 at 9:37 pm

    (It was delibrrate; just checking to see if Joyce is awake this weekend)

  • r2d2 October 2, 2016 at 12:14 am

    I think Bob should run for office. Maybe he could take over and round all those LDS people up and put them in camps and gas em. If you dislike them that much BOOB why don’t move to a country that doesn’t allow them. Iran comes to mind.

  • kurtballard13 October 2, 2016 at 1:54 am

    I have a great idea. Why don’t all of you transplants go back where you came from, especially those from COMMIEfornia? Y’all come here to visit and say how much you love it, so ya run home, sell out and pack it up to move here. You get here and before you’re even unpacked, it becomes your sole purpose in life to see just how fast you can turn So. Utah into the s–t hole you just left because you hated it. You’ll be running for city council, mayor, school board, anything and everything you believe needs more rules, regulations, codes, statutes, guidelines, ethics, and by Gawd if there isn’t 16 volumes of policy, you’ll revise it until it does. That’s only half of it, taxes, impact fees, dues, tolls, tickets, fines, levees, and check the box if you would like to donate $20 bucks to the “save the yellow lipped, speckled, flying desert maggot from extinction fund”.

    Save So. Utah from destruction at the hands of libtards, we don’t want your California ways corrupting our world, we’re the descendants of Mormon pioneers. You know the people that built the west, if you can’t assimilate then it will be in everyone’s best interest if you just find some other place to set up shop. Go to Colorado they’ve been overrun with like mined fruit cakes like yourselves, you can smoke all the dope you want.

    As for the road, we don’t need and or want the road, we’ve got more than enough of those ugly Spaniard looking domiciles they call aesthetically desert correct.

  • Common Sense October 2, 2016 at 7:03 am

    What is the point of a Tortoise Reserve if we do not reserve it? I am sure the land owner knew about the reserve when they made their purchasing decision…

  • r2d2 October 2, 2016 at 9:08 am

    Why do we need the reserve the turtles did just fine without it. What we need is more of the old roads opened back up. If we want to preserve this area we need to stop people from moving hear.

    • ladybugavenger October 2, 2016 at 3:14 pm

      It’s here. And good luck stopping people from moving to utah. Our country can’t even stop illegal immigrants from invading the US. Trump for President

      • Ron October 3, 2016 at 9:13 am

        ladybugavenger…
        You are right about the country not stopping all the illegal immigration. Yet St. George is a sanctuary city as well.
        The city doesn’t want to stop illegal immigration here. They want the cheap labor to build these 700 home developments so they can get 2-3 million dollars for them.
        I really hope the County does not approve this variance so a road can get built. Or the development as well.
        Imagine 700 more homes in that area. Just think about that….

        • .... October 3, 2016 at 3:30 pm

          Ron. the plan is to build 700 homes there. so people from California can come up here and buy them and turn them into rental units. this way illegals can rent them out and park their cars in front of other people’s houses while having 15 people live in each house.

          • Ron October 5, 2016 at 10:57 am

            You got that right 4 Dot. That’s how it is already in Mexifornia. We left Mexifornia over 30 years ago. We saw it coming and decided to get the hell out. Best move we made ever. And if this county gets to that point where it is getting to be like Mexifornia, we’ll get the hell out of here also. Probably in less than 5 years.

      • .... October 3, 2016 at 3:33 pm

        Well now you know how Oklahoma felt when you moved there ! LOL ♡♡♡♡♡

        • ladybugavenger October 4, 2016 at 6:57 pm

          LOL. They love me here! I bring flavor 🙂 I’m surprised more transplants don’t come here with their pensions. The houses are inexpensive. Maybe the tornados and humidity stop them. I hear it gets pretty cold here too

        • ladybugavenger October 4, 2016 at 7:00 pm

          I am surprised about how many illegals are here….no hablo ingleś

  • beacon October 4, 2016 at 7:12 am

    youreaphoney needs to understand that the homes that have been built in tortoise habitat, as the comment references, were built in “take” areas – areas that the habitat conservation plan makes provision for. In those areas, the tortoises were cleared and translocated to the reserve where development is not allowed. That was part of the original agreement. Yes, those folks have those homes because developers were able to have the lands cleared and build the homes. Most people who bought those homes didn’t know they were buying homes on tortoise habitat nor would it have mattered at that time. It was part of the agreement made to preserve 62,000 acres for development throughout the rest of the county. Willey’s road idea is just wrong. He can build a development with his gated road that does not require two road entrances. He’s not being stopped from developing his property.

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