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County grants vested rights to Reservoir River Ranch

Zero town or county residents turned out Tuesday to hear the fate of a 516-acre parcel sitting virtually downtown and slated for development over the next two decades.

The item before the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners — whether to approve a development agreement, including 25-year vested property rights for Reservoir River Ranch — was likely a developer’s dream. Read: Zero public comment or dissent.

That said, the board approved the agreement unanimously after asking a few questions of their own, and lauded the developers — Stanley Levine and his Fairway Land Trust — for being “responsible” and environmentally committed to maintaining the integrity of the property.

Reservoir River Ranch sits just south of Reservoir Hill and is bordered by U.S. 84, the San Juan River and Light Plant Road.

According to the development agreement, the project will include 1,207 residential units and 180,000 square feet of commercial space. However, the maximum commercial square footage allotted to any one enterprise cannot exceed 50,000 square feet.

The agreement also spells out the terms of the vesting, which grants an initial 10 year period of vested property rights (the property rights are detailed in the development agreement) with a 15-year extension given the property owner adheres to two key conditions.

First, the owners must dedicate a portion of the project to affordable/attainable housing or participate in a mutually-agreed-upon fee in lieu of program. Second, the owner must dedicate the designated public trail easements and open space along the San Juan River as indicated on the Concept Plan Map.

Should the owners fail to meet either condition, the vesting dies.

In addition, the development agreement addresses issues such as protecting the area’s dark skies, bicycle trails on open space, ridgeline protection to minimize visual impacts visible from light plant road, water and sewer issues and ownership and maintenance of roads.

Developer’s representative Nancy Lauro of Russell Engineering said the development agreement would provide predictability for the property owner and the county during the next two decades.

“There will be certainty for perhaps as much as 25 years,” Lauro said. “There will be certainty in how much development and what kind of development.”

In clarifying language found in portions of the development agreement, developer’s attorney Jeff Robbins said the agreement would not supplant the county land use code and that site specific standards — such and engineering requirements — would meet the county’s existing land use code at the time of platting.

In addition, water availability will be a crucial arbiter in the project’s construction, and Robbins said, “You (Archuleta County) will have to be satisfied at the subdivision stage that water is available.”

That said the agreement outlines who might provide water to the project, including discussion of adherence to various state and local regulations such as fire flows, hydrant placement and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment standards.

Rick Bellis, Archuleta County Director of Community Development, said granting vested rights provides predictability in planning for long term land use and infrastructure needs.

According to Archuleta County Planner Cindy Schultz, the project will include residential and multi-use/commercial components with some of the highest densities and key commercial components proposed for a strip along the San Juan River.

Levine originally proposed annexing the property to the town and developing under its land use code in September 2008, but ultimately those discussions faltered and Levine withdrew the request in March 2009.

In correspondence to the town, Levine cited a number of reasons for rescinding his proposal, among them: issues regarding the maintenance of Light Plant Road, the town’s alleged push for an “aggressive and mandated” development schedule and difficulty with town land use codes regarding planning processes for master planned communities.

The plan detailed in the county development agreement remains largely unchanged from that put before the town.