Town moves on major annexations

An old tradition states that how the new year starts is an indication of how the rest of the year will go. If that holds true, the Pagosa Springs Town Council should have meetings that are brief, productive, and devoid of substantial controversy.

Another portent put forth at Tuesday’s meeting was the imminent growth Pagosa will experience, at least in terms of sheer acreage, as council approved the second and final reading of an ordinance annexing two properties known collectively as the Goodman Annexation. North of town, along Cemetery Road, the annexation adds a little over 22 acres to Pagosa Springs.

Council also heard the first readings for zoning and annexing the so-called Levine property (Reservoir River Ranch). First proposed for annexation back in September, the property, bounded by U.S. 84, Light Plant Road, Hot Springs Boulevard, and Reservoir Hill, 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.

“We’ve been in negotiations with council and town planners over the past several years,” said Stanley Levine in presenting the annexation proposal before council, “This is no rush to judgement.”

Levine articulated his case by drawing attention to the fact that the proposed development would be built from an overall plan. “If I was to sell a few acres here, a few acres there,” Levine said, “You’d have multiple applications for development, a patchwork of developments with no connectivity, no cohesiveness.

“We’re giving the town over four miles of public access trails and riverfront acreage,” Levine said.

Council member Shari Pierce asked representatives for the development, “Please explain the difference between ‘public open space’ and ‘private open space,’ because I think if you’re going to have open space, it should all be open space.”

Nancy Lauro, representing the property owners, explained that the areas designated as private open space, “Would be like big back yards for the individual property owners ... think of it as a wildlife corridor.”

“The public open space is a gift to the town,” Lauro said.

Pierce also took exception to the mention of unconditional 25-year vested rights mentioned in the draft annexation agreement. “I would like to see a lesser period of time, with benchmarks, as we did in awarding vested rights for previous projects. We keep doing more and more (with vested rights time periods). We gave BootJack Management five years, then turned around and gave twenty-year vested rights for Blue Sky Village.”

Council member Stan Holt concurred, saying, “We shouldn’t be handing out vesting with every development that comes down the pike. We need to limit the time, with performance requirements.”

Town senior planner Joe Nigg replied, “It sounds like what was done with Blue Sky Village was appropriate,” and reminded council that, as a draft, the annexation agreement could be restructured to limit vested rights for the development.

Council member Mark Weiler dissented with the rest of council, however, saying, “I’m comfortable with the twenty-five.”

Matters of zoning for the development were addressed by county planning director Rick Bellis, who said, “The county has some issues with the annexation agreement.”

Specifically, Bellis stated that the county was interested in how the proposed annexation dealt with maintenance of Light Plant Road as well as issues of wetlands, drainage, and floodplains, all currently under contract with the county.

Lauro stated, “We didn’t hear about the county’s concerns until this afternoon and we have agreed verbally to address the county’s concerns.”

With both the annexation and zoning of the Reservoir River Ranch preceding final acceptance of the new Land Use and Development Code, Pierce asked if council would be better off tabling the matters until the LUDC was finally passed. “I’m not comfortable passing this,” Pierce said. “I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves.”

Nigg said that the council could pass the first reading of the ordinances, later pass the new LUDC, then revisit any changes at the second reading of the ordinances. “I think it (tabling) just slows down the process,” said council member Darrel Cotton, “I think we move forward. I think we’re well protected.”

Council passed both first readings for the annexation and zoning ordinances, with Pierce dissenting.

Having added another 96 acres to the town with the final approval of the Blue Sky Village annexation at its Dec. 18 mid-month meeting, council gave final approval to 20-year vested rights for that development. As reported in the Dec. 23 SUN, council approved the agreement which stipulates that, in order to earn vested rights for the full 20-year period, Blue Sky Village would have to complete improvements associated with Phase I of the approved development in order to get an automatic five-year extension. Another five-year extension would be granted after 15 years if the Blue Sky Village development provides certificates of occupancy for 50-percent of the project or if “required improvements associated with Phase II have been substantially completed.”

With unanimous approval of the second reading of the agreement, council passed the ordinance awarding vested rights (with conditions) to the Blue Sky Village development.

With the one more proposed annexation on the table, the town will most likely be adding more acreage to its boundaries in 2009. If annexed, the town would take in a tract of land located on the east side of U.S. 84, near the junction of U.S. 84 and Light Plant Road, totaling 1,373 acres, known as the Blue Sky Ranch. Planned BSR development would include 343 single-family units and 570 multi-family units; a multi-use 2,500-seat equestrian center/arena; an 18-hole golf course; a 225-room hotel and conference center; clubhouse and assorted retail facilities. The town is currently waiting for a formal draft of the proposed annexation before determining if it will move forward to a first reading of an ordinance to approve the annexation.

The town will review remaining alternative mapping requests and amendments to the LUDC at the Tuesday, Jan. 13 planning commission meeting, held at 5 p.m. in council chambers at Town Hall. Council will meet again in chambers Jan. 15 at noon to consider the planning commission’s recommendations for the LUDC and, barring unforeseen complications, will give final approval to the LUDC at its Feb. 3 meeting.

jim@pagosasun.com