The physical landscape of downtown Pagosa Springs could be changed forever if town council follows a recommendation made by its planning commission this week.
Commission member Peter Adams, who recused himself from the Tuesday night discussion, was the one who had submitted the application to the planning department requesting the town’s right of way (ROW) adjacent to his property be vacated and turned over to him.
Adams owns a strip of property between 6th Street and the shale cliff (along the San Juan River). He also owns more than half of the lots on the east side of 7th Street between Navajo and Piedra streets, on the top of the shale cliff. The town retains a ROW between those two properties that runs the full length of the ridge above the cliff.
Although the terrain would make construction of an alley nearly impossible in that area, and the strip of land remains undeveloped to this day, the town’s ROW could also allow for other future uses, such as trails or utilities. However, if the town vacates its ROW, Adams plans to develop the area into private residences.
Although Adams could not testify at the planning commission meeting because it would be considered a conflict of interest, he did submit an email with his application to the planning department, and Town Planner James Dickhoff included it in the commission’s agenda packet.
“The alley in it’s (sic) current location will prevent me from getting to the crest of the hill to take advantage of the view,” Adams wrote. “As I consider developing this property it is simple economics. If I can utilize the views the nature of the housing I can provide will change dramatically. A more up scale experience with views of the river,town (sic) and mountains.
“Without this option I would be forced to build lower income housing close to So. 7th. The rear yards would be a steep hill with none of the amenities mentioned above. This kind of construction is not my style and I would be reluctant to put my sign out front.”
As a concession for Adams being able to take over the alley ROW and develop the top of the hill, Dickhoff’s agenda materials explained, “The Applicant has also stated he will work with the Town to formalize the 6th street ROW, which currently goes through his property. The town has a prescriptive Right (Easement) for 6th Street alignment, however, this is very limiting on what can occur along 6th Street. Formalizing the 6th Street ROW will ensure the Town can utilize the ROW for all utilities, road, future sidewalk/trails, etc.”
Adams’ original application, which he submitted on March 27, asked the town to vacate the ROW for the entire alley between Navajo and Piedra, not just the portion next to his property. It also asked that the Navajo Street ROW from 6th Street to 7th Street be vacated, as well.
The April 29 planning commission meeting where this original application was to be discussed received proper notice, and a sizable crowd of neighbors showed up to offer public comments. However, at the last minute, Adams amended his application, narrowing the scope of the request to only include the portion of the alley ROW between his properties, excluding Navajo Street.
As a result, the planning commission decided to table the issue and have Adams submit a new application, rescheduling the public hearing until such time as they had a better idea of what was being requested.
None of the people who showed up at the April meeting were present at this week’s meeting, and none of the comments they made earlier were discussed at the second meeting, when the planning commission decided to recommend town council approve Adams’ application.
The only information the commission received was a detailed analysis from Dickhoff explaining the criteria for approval from the Land Use and Development Code and his arguments for why the commission should approve the application.
Therefore, the only concern the planning commission raised was if this vacation would leave the town holding a small piece of a “landlocked” ROW that was surrounded by private property and therefore inaccessible and of no use to the town. The commission directed Dickhoff to do further research to determine how much, if any, of the Piedra Street ROW had been vacated in the past.
Franklin Anderson, who was the first member of the public to make a comment at the April meeting, later wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in the May 29 issue of the SUN explaining his position.
“This alley is basically the crest of the hill,” Anderson’s letter explained, “and provides one of the best scenic views of the entire town of Pagosa Springs. I am against the vacating of this alley for two reasons. 1) If vacated the developer will blade the hill down into the river over 6th street, to develop his property. 2)This hill offers what I consider best to be used for the proposed Riverwalk trails.”
At Tuesday night’s meeting, while Dickhoff never mentioned Anderson’s comments, he did admit the top of the ridge could be a good place for a trail at some point in the future, but it is not currently a part of the town’s trail plan.
“The hill owned by Mr. Adams,” Anderson concluded, “who is also on the planning commission, is a topographical site that should not be razed for economic gain. I would like to see a poll taken by the citizens as to where the river trail should be and should the alley be vacated.
“I believe there are a lot of questions that need to be asked and answered before a firm decision is made to vacate the alley …”
Later in the Tuesday night meeting, after Adams was allowed to return to the room, the discussion turned towards making revisions to the LUDC, with an eye towards tightening up certain regulations and giving other developers and businesses narrower hoops to jump through.
Adams in particular complained about the variable message sign for the Quality Resort uptown and the size of the Quality Inn sign downtown. He also advocated for banning cargo containers and metal-sided buildings.