The Pagosa Springs Town Council voted last week to approve vacating a majority of the right of way (ROW) for the alley between 6th and 7th streets, which, if approved on second reading, will give away the public land to the adjacent land owner, who has admitted he plans to modify the top of the hill in order to build residences along the ridgeline.
Mayor Don Volger began by opening up the issue to public comment. Maria Gallegos was the first citizen to offer comments. She owns the next property directly south of the land in question, and she gave an impassioned argument for why the ROW should be vacated and the land turned over to her neighbor, Peter Adams, citing safety concerns and privacy issues if the town ever decides to use the ROW for a public trail above the shale cliff.
Adams owns a strip of property between 6th Street and the top of the shale cliff. He also owns more than half of the lots on the east side of 7th Street between Navajo and Piedra Streets, west of the top of the shale cliff. The town retains a ROW between those two properties. This ROW is the only thing that separates the two properties and prevents Adams from developing the land.
The next person to speak was Jerry Lucero, who owns property to the north of the Adams property. Lucero argued for vacating the entire ROW, not only for the alley, but also for Navajo and Piedra Streets between 6th and 7th streets. Because of the steep topography, none of these ROWs currently contain streets or alleyways. They simply remain town property from when the town was platted.
Once the issue was closed to public comment, council member John Egan asked Town Planner James Dickhoff to clarify a number of features on the map, which was projected onto the council chamber’s screen from Dickhoff’s computer.
In particular, Dickhoff explained that a dotted line running parallel to the edge of 6th Street showed the amount of land Adams was willing to donate to the town in exchange for the ROW vacation.
While Adams has, in the past, taken offense at the suggestion that he is using 6th Street as a bargaining chip to force the alley ROW vacation, the motion that was finally made included two contingencies — the town will only vacate the alley ROW if the 6th Street land is donated to the town, and even then, only if and when Adams actually pulls a building permit or submits official plans for his construction project on the top of the ridge.
When Egan asked about the construction plan, Adams replied, “I’d like to keep the lots in place if I can. Until I do a really extensive topographical study, and really figure out how I’m going to move the dirt around, I’m not absolutely sure. I have six lots, and I could put six single-family dwellings there, or at the very most twelve. If I were to clear away those lots, I could put up considerably more, like twenty-four or even thirty, maybe.”
At previous meetings on the subject, Adams has explained he doesn’t want to go through all the effort and expense of having formal plans drawn up by an architect until he knows for sure that the ROW is vacated and there are no remaining obstacles to moving forward with the project.
When councilor David Schanzenbaker asked him to clarify what grading work he would do to the ridge, Adams said, “It’s hard for me to say how much I’m going to bring down that ridge, and it would be following the slope of the ridge itself, but if you walk the west edge of that alley, I think I will be coming down to about that grade … That’s probably going to be around fifteen feet down, and it might not even be that much. Basically what I’m looking to do is create building pads.”
Councilor Egan asked if the current code addresses the issue of placing buildings on hilltops or ridgelines. Dickhoff confirmed that the current Land Use and Development Code does not put any restrictions on crowning or ridgetop construction.
“If I may, Mr. Mayor,” Egan continued, “I just want to make a comment about this. I have no problem with Mr. Adams or what he wants to do, but to me this is not entirely clear yet, and I would say it is incumbent upon the council to consider what the impact of continued ridgetop development is. Maybe it’s a great thing; maybe it’s a bad idea. I really don’t know, but for discussion purposes, I don’t think this council has addressed a position on this issue.”
While Egan reiterated he has nothing against Adams, he concluded, “It is our responsibility as town council to consider what the impact of ridgetop development is for our community.”
The second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for Oct. 23.