EDITORIAL: A House Subdivided Against Itself, Part Three

Read Part One

The Archuleta County staff had prepared a thick packet for the August 1 Board of County Commissioners’ (BOCC) meeting… about 255 pages of reports and drawings and maps.  About 53 of those pages concerned a proposal from developer Jack Searle — that he be allowed to purchase approximately 16 acres of riverfront property from the Fairway Land Trust, without going through the County’s normal ‘Subdivision Review’ process. Mr. Searle also wants to ensure that his purchase will not trigger the dedication of any bike trail easements within the proposed Reservoir River Ranch development — except on the 16 acres in question, where a trail would indeed be dedicated.

The 53 pages included several maps to help clarify the proposal. One of them showed the approximate location of the proposed “Future Development Parcel” marked with a blue outline, immediately south of the Town limits:

Most of the Reservoir River Ranch Planned Unit Development is to the right of the indicated parcel, colored in pink.

Another map illustrates the fact that the entire 16-acre parcel appears to be within the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) “floodplain.”

A third map indicates the approximate location of the parcel on the County’s “Future Land Use Map.”  This map is intended to help illustrate aspects of the (occasionally-updated) Archuleta County Community Plan.  The dark gray area in the top portion of the map indicates the Town of Pagosa Springs, where the BOCC has no jurisdiction.

Of the three maps, the Future Land Use map might be the most interesting, since it purports to lay out a preferred plan for growth… and subdivisions like the one being proposed by Mr. Searle are certainly an integral part of the growth process. Why exactly this particular plan is ‘preferred,’ I cannot say, even though I’ve been participating in discussions about the Community Plan for the past 15 years or so.

A couple of things catch my eye, as I peruse the Future Land Use map. About a third of the proposed Reservoir River Ranch is shaded with a rusty brown color, indicating “High density residential.” Obviously, the proposed Searle parcel is within that ‘High density’ area.

The brown color butts right up against the rest of the Reservoir River Ranch, which is colored pale green, indicating “Very low density residential.” Why anyone would plan to have “Very low density residential” immediately adjacent to “High density residential”… well, I suppose only the Fairway Land Trust and the County planning department can understand such an arrangement.

The 2009 development agreement between the Fairway Land Trust and the County specifies that the overall development will seek to connect to the Town of Pagosa Springs sanitation system — which implies annexation into the town. (The Fairway Land Trust had applied for annexation into the Town back in 2008, but withdrew their application before the actual annexation took place.)

The prospect of future Town annexation may explain why Mr. Searle is not interested in going through the County’s normal “Subdivision Review” process… because he intends to go through the Town’s subdivision approval process instead.

Which brings us to an interesting detail on the County’s “Future Land Use” map. Running across the map, just south of the Reservoir River Ranch, we see a thin, dark-red line stair-stepping across the landscape.

This red line indicates the limit of a “Joint Planning Area”… which, I assume, means that the County and the Town have agreed to jointly plan the areas that surround the existing town. When this agreement was made, and whether anything has ever been done about it, I cannot say.  But Colorado state law requires a municipality to have a “Three-Mile Plan” describing how the areas surrounding the town limits might be annexed and developed in the future.  Without such a plan, a municipality cannot legally annex property.

From the Department of Local Affairs website:

In 1987, the state legislature made changes to annexation law limiting municipal annexations to no more than three miles beyond the current municipal boundary in any given year. Further, municipalities in Colorado are required to prepare and adopt a three-mile plan prior to annexing property into their territorial boundaries per C.R.S. 31-12-105 et. seq. The three-mile plan is a long-range plan that outlines where municipalities intend to annex property and describes how they will ensure the adequate provision of services within the newly annexed territory and the remainder of the existing municipality.

Although the Town adopted a “Comprehensive Plan” in 2006, that plan is rather vague about “where the municipality intends to annex property” and even more vague about “how they will ensure the adequate provision of services within the newly annexed territory.”

A search on the Town website for something called a “Three-Mile Plan” brings up no web page results.

The proposed Searle subdivision is perhaps the poster child for the weird way our Town and County have failed to work jointly, where land use planning is concerned. The proposed subdivision is within the unincorporated County, but adjoins the Town boundary.  Maybe it makes sense to actually have a joint conversation?

Although Jack Searle’s representative at the August 1 BOCC meeting, Ryan Searle, confirmed that Mr. Searle has been meeting with the Town about a future annexation, it would appear that the BOCC has yet to discuss the annexation process with the Town Council.  I don’t recall seeing any representatives of the Town government at the August 1 BOCC meeting, while we listened to a pro-and-con discussion about a subdivision that will, if approved by the BOCC, almost certainly seek annexation into the Town.

Just to be clear, however, this subdivision is not legally ‘a subdivision.’ At least, that’s how things appear. The 2009 development agreement includes a section numbered 2.4.1 and titled “Future Development Parcels.”  To quote from the agreement:

“The Future Development Parcel process is intended to allow Owner the ability to create parcels to facilitate future development or for conveyance purposes only; no specific additional development rights will inure to the property through the use of the Future Development Parcel process…

“An application for approval of a Future Development Parcel plat shall be submitted to the County, along with the proposed plat, and shall provide information regarding the conceptual density as depicted by Table 1 of residential units and of commercial square footage that may be requested for development within the Future Development Parcel.”

I’ve looked through the 53 pages of maps and documents submitted to the BOCC on August 1 and I have not been able to locate “information regarding the conceptual density as depicted by Table 1 of residential units and of commercial square footage that may be requested for development.”

But anyway, I’m wondering what the Town thinks of all this rigmarole?

Read Part Four…

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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.