BoCC endorses TreeTops conceptual plan

The Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) endorsed the TreeTops of Pagosa conceptual plan Thursday, giving developers the green light to proceed with their project, but not without a few sobering words from the county attorney first.

“This (conceptual plan endorsement) is before the beginning. They (the developers) have nothing when they leave here tonight,” said Archuleta County Attorney Todd Starr.

Starr was referring specifically to concerns that a commissioner endorsement of the TreeTops conceptual plan might connote broader project approval or might grant some degree of vested property rights.

“What I was intending to convey was that they (TreeTops developers) have no new rights to the conclusion of their project. The commissioners are not committed to approving this project. There are no vested rights,” Starr said.

In fact, the only thing TreeTops developers left with Thursday was a nod from the commissioners to initiate the formal planning process as outlined in the county’s land use and development code, including the drafting of a development agreement, at least two public hearings — and likely many more — according to the project’s head of operations Will Neder.

Based on discussions, the motion on the floor and the unanimous commissioner vote, the next step will involve Neder and his colleagues working with county planning staff and the planning commission to draft a development agreement that is satisfactory to both parties. Apparently, there is a draft version already in the works.

The agreement, according to Neder, Starr and Rick Bellis, director of county development, will allow both parties to negotiate on a variety of crucial issues such as water, roads and other infrastructure, traffic impacts and use patterns, environmental issues, quality assurances, building heights, public open space and land use patterns across the TreeTops parcel.

Neder explained that once a development agreement is approved, they will move through the planning process with the project’s 13 tracts. With 13 tracts, Neder said he anticipates scores of public meetings.

As presented, TreeTops could include as many as a 176 residential units and 140,000 square feet of non-residential space. Those numbers could change however during negotiations on the development agreement.

Neder described the project as a “high service, concierge-based community with high end residential.” He also emphatically worked to clarify misconceptions regarding the project’s commercial components.

“There will be no ‘big-box’ here,” Neder said. “The design concept is an intimate, beautiful mountain village feel with live-work, mixed-use and mixed demographic components,” Neder said. “We want to make wise use of traffic patterns and create intimate public spaces. This is an environmentally and socially sensitive project.”

The project is proposed for a 52-acre parcel 3.7 miles up Piedra Road from the intersection of Piedra and U.S. 160.

Of the 10 citizens in attendance, two spoke clearly against the project, citing concerns over neighborhood compatibility, traffic impacts on Piedra Road, water and other infrastructure concerns, wildfire danger, light pollution and trust issues with county staff.

Burt Adams, a property owner with land near the TreeTops parcel, has argued that county staff used the Urban Services Area and Future Land Use Map project to pave the way for TreeTops and other high density project approvals.

Adams referred to an Urban Services Area meeting where Adams accused Bellis of belittling those in attendance.

“Trust is a major problem — trust went out the window there,” Adams said.

Aside from trust issues, Adams said the mixed-use commercial and residential plan proposed by TreeTops developers was out of character with land use and development patterns found on adjacent subdivisions. He also challenged the developer’s assertions on the merits of “cluster development” and their population projections.

After Adams, four citizens clearly encouraged county staff and the developers to move forward with the development agreement.

“Certainly there is a lot to be resolved, but this project may be the beginning, the first step in the direction this county needs to be going” said Connie Griffin.

In addition to Griffin, proponents lauded the TreeTops conceptual plan, noting the developer’s thoughtful, environmentally and socially sensitive approach to the project.

“Let’s start thinking about smart growth instead of strip malls. It’s time to change our paradigm,” project proponent Chrissy Karas said.