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Development, the right way

We were heartened to learn the county commissioners sent a conceptual plan for a proposed development at the former Square Top Ranch back to the developers for possible revision. Residents of the Upper Blanco area are alarmed at the prospect of a major development taking place on the property. As are we.

But, we have been alarmed for a half century by the specter of extensive residential development in the Mountain West. Pagosa, like most mountain towns in the West, has seen its share of boom and bust. First came the livestock business, when ranching was a mainstay of the economy and the lion’s share of privately held land (and a great deal of public land) was given over to the cattle and sheep producers. That boom ended and, in recent memory, the business has dwindled to a shadow of its former self, many of the ranches sold, like Square Top, for residential development. Next came the timber industry, the last logging operations and sawmills closing nearly 20 years ago. Then, there was the real estate industry, which began an explosive growth period in the ’70s, experienced ups and downs and, of late, was part of a bubble that burst, here and nearly everywhere else in the nation.

If any of these industries is likely to return, it is real estate. This is, after all, an extraordinarily beautiful place —the kind of place to which Baby Boomers might move when they retire (given they still have the wherewithal to do so).

At the moment, there is inventory to go around — plenty of homes and properties available at reasonable prices.

And there are still a few ranch properties that could be sold and developed. Like Square Top Ranch.

To call Square Top a ranch at this point is misleading, As Commissioner Whiting noted, any property purchased for the amount spent on Square Top is not going to be used as a working ranch again, barring miraculous circumstances. No, it is going to be subdivided and made a premium property, say the developers. The development will, they say, appeal to the top 1 percent of wage earners in the nation. While we will debate this, and chalk it up to developer goggles (any among the top 1 percent of wage earners could buy the entire property, and more, and not have to live next to anyone), we can see the project someday resulting in a “high-end” offering.

After all, the property is privately owned and if the developers meet requirements, they have the right to modify their holding. The question is, Modify it in what way?

The commissioners made it clear they require, among other things, less density and rapt attention to roads, as well as enhanced cooperation with neighbors.

Good for the BoCC. They are in line with a healthy perspective on development — and, apparently, at least to a degree, so are the developers. Starting nearly 20 years ago, with the creation of the Crowley Ranch Reserve in Chromo, a positive approach to subdivisions appeared on the local scene — maximum land held in common, deed restricted from further development, building sites arranged for minimum impact on the environment and sight lines. The concept should hold from here on out. Everything possible should be done to avoid the disaster caused by the kind of development of ranch properties that occurred in parts of the Pagosa Lakes area (and others), where near-urban densities were allowed.

There are few large ranch properties left in the county. If they are sold, and proposed for development, county officials should make sure the impact of development is as slight as possible, and that it takes into account the reactions of those who live nearby.

Karl Isberg

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