Under old business on the agenda for today’s town council meeting is the second reading of an ordinance that will, if passed, give the right of way for a portion of the alley between 6th and 7th streets in downtown Pagosa Springs to a private landowner.
Peter Adams, who also holds a seat on the town’s planning commission, owns a strip of property between the San Juan River and the top of the shale cliff between Navajo and Piedra streets. South 6th Street cuts across his property. He also owns more than half of the lots on the east side of 7th Street in the same block, west of the top of the shale cliff.
The town retains a ROW between those two properties. This ROW runs close to the top of the ridge and is the only thing that separates the two properties, thereby preventing Adams from developing along the ridgeline.
At the Sept. 18 council meeting, when Ordinance 814 passed the first reading, Adams admitted he plans to flatten the top of the hill in order to build a number of residences along the ridgeline.
When council member John 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. Town Planner James 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.”
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 last month included two contingencies — the town will only vacate the alley ROW if the 6th Street land gets donated to the town, and 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.
Council member Clint Alley, who lives next door to Adams, has expressed interest in building a sidewalk along 6th Street, but as it stands now, the town cannot do that. It does not own the land where 6th Street is currently located; Adams does, and he has only granted the town a prescriptive easement.
As Dickhoff explained, “South 6th Street is outside of the platted 6th Street ROW, and instead follows the river curve through the applicant’s property. The applicant has stated he will work with the town to formalize the 6th Street ROW where the actual roadway exists. The town currently has a prescriptive right (easement) for the 6th Street alignment, however, this is very limiting on what can occur along this portion of 6th Street.”
If the town ever needed to widen the street or build sidewalks along it, Adams could say “no,” unless the second reading of Ordinance 814 passes at today’s meeting and Adams donates the land for 6th Street to the town in exchange for the alley ROW.