EDITORIAL: Spot Zoning… For a Better Future? Part Three

Read Part One

We began Part One, earlier this week, with this promise:

The Town of Pagosa Springs will assemble its Town Council this evening, Tuesday March 7 at 5pm, in the Council Chambers upstairs in Town Hall, to discuss a number of agenda items, including the First Reading of Ordinance 854, “Amending the Official Zoning Map Regarding Property Known as the Enclave at Aspen Village, Except Phase One.”

In fact, that ordinance was not discussed on Tuesday evening, despite its compelling fascination to certain news editors. The Town Council was, however, provided a packet of information — about the proposed ‘Zoning Map Amendments’ that could allow the three remaining acres of the Enclave development to build out at a higher density rate.

If the Council approves the ordinance at a future public hearing, they will be endorsing the following conclusions:

WHEREAS, the Town Council finds and determines that amending the official zoning map regarding property known as The Enclave at Aspen Village, Except Phase One, to zone the property Town Residential-High Density (R-22) District, with the conditions of approval specified below:

  1. Will promote the public health, safety, and general welfare;
  2. Is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and the purposes of the Code;
  3. Is consistent with the stated purpose of the proposed zoning district;
  4. Has existing facilities and services (including roads and transportation, water, gas, electricity, police and fire protection, and sewage and waste disposal, as applicable) available to serve the Property while maintaining adequate levels of service to existing development;
  5. Is not likely to result in significant adverse impacts upon the natural environment, including air, water, noise, stormwater management, wildlife, and vegetation, or such impacts will be substantially mitigated; and
  6. Is not likely to result in significant adverse impacts upon other property in the vicinity of the Property.

It’s that last statement — number 6 — that might be the central point of disagreement at a future public hearing.

Would the adverse impacts of the proposed zoning change be ‘significant’?

Or, to the contrary… would the impacts be significantly ‘positive’?

In the March 7 Council packet, the Town Planning Department had included letters from residents living in the existing Enclave neighborhood — in homes that once looked out upon rolling meadows dotted with mature pine trees, but which now sit in the shadow of the 93,000-square-foot Walmart store.

The Enclave Townhomes, located in Aspen Village. Daily Post archive photo.

One of the letters sent to the Town includes these comments:

This project is located right behind my house and I am rejecting to this rezoning. If this rezoning gets approved, it will only further devalue my home. Wal-Mart has already devalued my property and I am concerned about my property’s value after these get built. Also, this will be an eyesore from my property and will take away my views. Wal-Mart has already taken most of my views and I am concerned that my retirement property that I have invested in will be ruined. This area is being taken over by parking lots, people, and noise.

Another submitted letter has a similar tone:

This memo is written to adamantly oppose rezoning Aspen Village property to increase density to 22 units per acre from the existing 12 units per acre, regardless of any perceived justification by Pagosa Springs. I purchased my property two years ago fully knowing that Aspen Village could, and probably would, finish building the remaining units. I was OK with that. What I’m not OK with is increasing the unit density of the village, which will create crowding, lower the cost/unit, thus significantly diminish existing property values.

Please respect and support the residents of Pagosa Springs on this matter, not the non-resident builders who only seek to increase profits at the expense of PS residents.

After almost a year of research, the Archuleta County Affordable Housing Workgroup continues to promote the idea that we have a serious housing crisis in Archuleta County. Although the crisis might not be as severe as what’s now seen in certain other areas of the U.S., the resources available to address the problem might be more limited than in other communities.

The proposal by the Enclave developers — Aspen Village Ventures LLC, PO Box 1860, Bentonville, Arkansas — to construct up to 55 moderate-sized homes just south of the Walmart store would likely address at least a small part of our current housing problem.

Obviously, these new residents would be close to shopping… at Walmart… and also close to the new public charter school, Pagosa Peak Open School, scheduled to open its doors in the Parelli Offices next September — the community’s first K-8 “school of choice.”

One of the letters submitted to the Planning Department notes the problems inherent in low-density communities, and the advantages of more densely-designed, more pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods:

Infrastructure (i.e roads, water, power) for densely populated communities is much less expensive than houses on large lots distances apart. Hopefully the Town of Pagosa Springs, Archuleta County, and Aspen Village would recognize this and help fund the infrastructure for further development of the Cottages, Enclave, and Aspen Village. The town of Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County may be able to obtain grant money to help fund this. Hopefully Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County will provide a better walking connection and trail system to Pagosa Lakes and the Town of Pagosa.

Many people are realizing that the right amount of well-designed and efficiently furnished space is more comfortable, economical, and requires less maintenance than too much space. Also many people are attracted to a community where they can walk to restaurants and shopping.

One difficult issue facing our elected community leaders, as they consider higher density housing, is the assumption that a property owner has “property rights” that extend far beyond his or her own parcel of land. We live in a culture that encourages the belief that my right to have my personal “property value” protected from theoretical harm — say, from having higher density neighborhoods sprout up in the vicinity — supersedes the right of a neighboring property owner to build affordable housing on his own property.

That is to say, our culture encourages us to focus — myopically — on the view from our own window, and to ignore the overall vitality of our community.

Without affordable, workforce housing options, Pagosa Springs will eventually become a gentrified community, affordable only to the wealthy — like many other Colorado mountain towns have become, or are in the process of becoming. I imagine that’s not as much of a concern to our wealthier residents, as it is to the working class families who also find Pagosa Springs to be their “community of choice.”

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.