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Construction, improvement work on town schedule

The May meeting of the Pagosa Springs Town Council on Tuesday was short on drama but long on suggestions that the town will be looking at a busy summer, as improvement and construction projects begin to break ground.

During the planning commission report, presented by town building inspector James Dickhoff, David Mitchem’s Town Manager’s report and the Parks and Recreation report (presented by Parks Supervisor Jim Miller), several projects were discussed that should change the landscape of the town before next winter.

Despite current local economic conditions, 2010 looks to be a more vibrant year than the area’s stagnant 2009 as the Mesa Heights development breaks ground this week, Dickhoff said — positive news for contractors and construction workers hard-pressed to find work.

First proposed in 1956, the Mesa Heights development was replatted during the past year to include 11 residential lots. Within the next few weeks, construction work will begin on the infrastructure necessary to support residential structures.

Dickhoff’s report also stated that construction on two new wayfinding and signage structures should begin within the next week.

Potentially further down the road, Dickhoff reported that the planning department has dealt with two proposed developments, the first at the location of the small church just south of the post office (a second building added to that parcel), as well as a residential subdivision proposed on First Street.

Finally, Dickhoff reported an annexation request from The Links at 109 Ace Court (west of the Hillside Inn, the former Holiday Inn). Regarding the annexation request, council member Stan Holt warned about potential issues with the roads in that area (i.e. the town assuming responsibility for road maintenance). However, Mitchem countered by saying, “It can be annexed without annexing the roads,” explaining that the annexation could go through up to the boundary of the road, leaving the road itself within the county’s boundary.

While Mitchem’s report indicated that bids should be in for improvements and repaving on Lewis Street, between North 1st Street and North 4th Street. However, Mitchem suggest that Stimulus Funds (from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — ARRA) could be available for funding that project and that town staff was looking into how competitive the town would be in securing those funds. Given that ARRA would fund the project with an 80/20 match (with 80 percent coming from the feds), the town might postpone the Lewis Street project until next year, should it look positive that the town would receive those funds.

Finishing up this summer’s projects, Miller reported that the Army Corps of Engineers had approved permit amendments on two new whitewater river structures for the town’s ongoing river improvements project. Due to continued high water levels, Miller stated that construction on those whitewater structures would not start until the fall.

Despite positive news as far as new construction in the area, the meeting started with a discussion of a proposed capital improvement project that has garnered opposition from community stakeholders. The project, a proposed expansion of the La Plata Electric Association’s Ponderosa substation (see related article), has led to issues regarding the scope of the buildout.

Speaking before council, Keith Newbold, representing Pat and Linda Parelli, Mark Weiler, and Parelli International LLC, said, “It’s not a reconstruction, it’s not an upgrade — it’s a major expansion.”

Newbold provided council members with plans showing the scope of the project — about nine times larger than the existing substation. While not opposing the expansion, per se, Newbold said that it was LPEA’s seeming unwillingness to mitigate the expansion’s effect on the view shed without having the Parellis and Weiler share part of the cost for that mitigation.

“What is the purpose of this new substation?” Holt asked Newbold. Newbold responded that LPEA had said the current substation was currently operating beyond capacity.

Council member Shari Pierce then asked Newbold, “Has the Parelli Group suggested to La Plata as to what would be good for them?” Newbold responded that the Parelli Group had recommended decorative walls, set up on earthen berms, would minimize the project’s effect on the view shed. The issue, Newbold said, was that LPEA was asking for shared cost for view shed mitigation.

As proposed, the project would be a 40-foot tall structure, surrounded by security fencing, and taking up about three acres. Situated just north of U.S. 160, the structure would be sunk several feet into the ground but would still be elevated more than 30 feet above the landscape.

“The reason I’m coming to the town is, I’m not sure this is the kind of thing you want as an introduction at the gateway to your town,” Newbold said.

Newbold added that, while the project was not within town jurisdiction, he hoped the council would appeal to the county’s planning commission on behalf of the Parelli Group. To those ends, Newbold had drafted a resolution for council to consider and, if approved, would be presented to the county. Previously, Newbold said, both the county planning commission and county staff had been unresponsive to communications from the Parelli Group.

However, council was unwilling to take sides at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Obviously, this puts the town in a difficult position,” said council member Don Volger, pointing out that both LPEA and Parelli had done many things to benefit the community.

“I’m not comfortable taking a position yet,” said council member Darrell Cotton.

Council agreed, noting that with a county planning commission meeting taking place next week, it would wait on that commission’s decision before approaching the Board of County Commissioners with a decision either way.

Council meets again Thursday, May 20, at noon in Town Hall.