ST. GEORGE – Developer Kirk Willey has cleared a big hurdle toward building a road to access a 410-acre development near Diamond Valley.
At a regular meeting Tuesday, the Washington County Habitat Advisory Committee approved Willey’s mitigation offer of 21.66 acres near Leeds to make up for about 4 acres needed to build a 2,158-foot access road across a corner of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.
The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve was created more than 20 years ago to protect the endangered Mojave desert tortoise. The Habitat Conservation Plan – an advisory committee that oversees the reserve and its tortoise population – set aside the 62,000-acre reserve while allowing development to continue in the rest of Washington County.
The proposed development, named CoaChella, would be built on land owned by Willey that is located east and south of the Diamond Valley Cinder Cone and east of state Route 18. Plans call for 600-800 homes on lots averaging .4 acres.
The proposed roadway would connect Willey’s property to SR-18 as a second access to the development – an access that is required by fire codes. Currently, there is an access to the property on West Diamond Valley Road at the north end of Willey’s property.
While the road crosses land controlled by several agencies, Willey said the Utah Department of Transportation, Utah State Institutional Trust Land Administration and Snow Canyon State Park are all supportive of the road.
At a Sept. 27 meeting, the Habitat Conservation Technical Committee was asked to review the plan and make a determination as to whether Willey’s offer of the acreage near Leeds was a “net gain” for the desert tortoise. The technical committee consists of biologists and others representing the tortoise and the state and federal agencies tasked with protecting it.
The technical committee came back with a 3-3 tied vote, throwing the decision back to the advisory committee.
Factors listed by the technical committee in support of the proposal include favorable elevation and vegetation for the tortoise and the fact that the property is contiguous with the White Reef/Zone 3 portion of the reserve, Cameron Rognan, technical committee chairman, told the advisory committee.
The Leeds property will require fencing; the advisory committee placed that responsibility on Willey.
To gain approval for the road, Willey still has to complete requirements of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management. He has been working with the BLM for over a year, he said. If Willey gets all the acquired approvals, the Leeds property would be added to the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.
Willey has not received Washington County planning and zoning approval for the planned subdivision; the project is not yet far enough along to begin the application process. The county commission did pass a resolution Oct. 18 in support of the developer and the road.
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