Council member resigns, town tackles annexation issues

Deferring to local, state and national elections, the Pagosa Springs Town Council pushed its regular council meeting back from the usual first Tuesday of the month to Wednesday. Although impossible to say if the change led to a shift in tenor, the meeting was anything but business as usual.

The biggest surprise of the meeting came when council member Angela Atkinson submitted her resignation to the council. With a tearful delivery, Atkinson stated that her resignation would be “effective immediately.”

Atkinson gave personal reasons for resigning in a later interview, giving her reasons as mostly due to the pressures of commuting between Pagosa Springs and Durango (where Atkinson works as a consultant).

“I tried, I really did,” Atkinson said in her emotional announcement before council, “After 11 years, it got to be too much.”

Atkinson had been a fixture in Pagosa Springs politics for a number of years and served on various boards and commissions. She just recently resigned her position on the town tourism committee.

Town council has posted a notice for the vacancy created by Atkinson’s resignation in the current edition of The SUN. Per municipal code, after announcing the opening, there will be a 30-day period in which the board will accept applications for the position after which, with adequate response, the council will vote to appoint the new council member.

Members serve on council in a voluntary capacity.

A hodgepodge of annexation issues were heard by the board, with mixed results.

The first issue, the so-called Sawmill Place Planned Unit Development (PUD) at Pike Drive along U.S. 160, had been sent to the board by the town planning commission for review. Recommendations by the planning commission for the board were for approval with conditions for answering CDOT concerns regarding access and traffic flow.

Andy Schlaefli, representing the Sawmill Place development, made an exasperated appeal to the board regarding CDOT demands. “I just got a letter from CDOT today,” said Schlaefli, “And basically what they’ve asked you to do is make changes that don’t make this development feasible.”

Attempting to answer Schlaefli’s frustrations, interim town manager Tamra Allen said that, because of the recent changes mandated by CDOT, staff would not be able to discuss the matter at the moment, but committed staff to working with Schlaefli in addressing issues with CDOT. Council member Stan Holt also threw his support to the project, stating that perhaps the weight of the board in an appeal to CDOT would mitigate the situation, saying, “We can continue this until next month and maybe get this worked out with CDOT.”

The council then approved a resolution for an “intent to annex” the so-called Levine property (Reservoir River Ranch), a property bounded by U.S. 84, Light Plant Road, Hot Springs Boulevard, and Reservoir Hill. As reported in the Sept. 25 SUN, the annexation would potentially entail development of 720 multi-family units on 120 acres, 344 single-family and multi-family units on 170 acres, and 448 mixed-use units (i.e. including commercial) on 28 acres. The remaining 227 acres on the property — 41 percent of the total acreage — would be dedicated to open space, with about 25 acres of that open space possibly donated to the town (contingent on the town’s acceptance of the parcels) for the purpose of adding to the Riverwalk and Mill Creek trail systems.

With approval of the “intent to annex” resolution by council, representatives of the project have 60 days to hammer out an annexation agreement satisfactory to the town.

Two recently proposed annexations, The Blue Sky Ranch and Blue Sky Village annexations, were tabled for further discussion. A work session on the annexations has been scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 20, at 9 a.m. in council chambers at Town Hall.

Although annexed in 2001, the Mountain Crossing development, an area of land at the southeast corner of U.S. 160 and 84, applied for 20-year vested rights on the property. Vested rights extend time limits on proposed developments, assuring developers that a municipality won’t affect changes in statute or agreements to the detriment of the proposed development. Colorado statute allows for vested rights, suggesting a three-year period. Under its home rule charter, Pagosa Springs can extend the time period for vesting rights and did so in May, 2008 when it gave BootJack Management five-year vested rights on several of its downtown properties.

When asked why the Mountain Crossing development needed such an extended period of vested rights, Nancy Lauro of Russell Engineering, representing the developers, replied, “The developers are putting in the infrastructure there (improvements on U.S. 160 and 84) and about $3.5 million has been invested so far. Vested rights bring assurance that the developer won’t spend money only to have council pull out of its commitments.”

Speaking in support of vested rights for the project, local Realtor Dawn Truax said, “It’s in the best interest of local developers to get this project started.”

Council approved 20-year vested rights for the Mountain Crossing development unanimously.

Having put development and annexation issues aside, council addressed one more issue concerning local property when it considered a counteroffer for the Watters property. As reported in last week’s edition of The SUN, the town made an offer on the property for $200,000 in order to complete the Riverwalk Phase II project, with the Watters family trust countering with a $500,000 offer.

Holt answered the Watters’ offer by proposing an alternate route for the Riverwalk project that eliminated the need for the property. Given the viability of Holt’s proposed alternative, council roundly refused the offer, unanimously, with Mayor Ross Aragon complimenting Holt: “I told you five minutes after I heard it that I thought it was a brilliant idea.”

Moving from direct issues of property, the council considered how it would formally define “affordable or workforce housing,” considering the county and the town now work with different definitions. Hearing that the county decided on a set formula for its affordable housing definition (as reported in the Oct. 23 SUN), council agreed unanimously to accept the county’s definition, i.e., 30-60 percent of median area housing costs.

Representing Habitat For Humanity and several local area churches, Cindi Galabota asked council to name Gurez, Pakistan, as a “sister community” for Pagosa Springs. The village, described as possessing “many similarities in environment to Pagosa Springs” and located in “a remote valley in Northern Pakistan” has received $2,300 in donations from several community members for development of The Pagosa Springs Skills Development Center in Gurez. The council complied with the request.

Council convenes again Thursday, Nov. 20, for three separate meetings at Town Hall. The first meeting begins at 9 a.m. — the work session for the Blue Sky Ranch and Blue Sky Village annexations. Council’s mid-month meeting follows at noon. Another work session involving geothermal policy and the lease on geothermal water with The Springs Resort is set to follow the mid-month meeting.