The Archuleta School District and the Town of Pagosa Springs have been working together to clear up a land ownership issue that has come to light recently.
JEM Partners LLC, which owns the property to the south of the school district’s maintenance and transportation (MAT) building, has brought it to the attention of town staff that it does not have full access to its property, as was promised.
In 1974, when the sanitation district donated land to the school district, part of the warranty deed specified that an 80-foot-wide access easement for the property to the south would be dedicated along the eastern edge of the school district’s property.
However, when the school district built its maintenance and transportation building in the late 1990s, it encroached into this access easement — the building itself is 7.5 feet over the line, while the pavement where the school buses exit the back parking lot extends 25 feet over the line.
In the event JEM Partners begins to develop its land, particularly if it submits a major subdivision design to the town for review, it would need the full 80-foot-wide access, because it would be required to improve it up to town standards for streets, which include pavement, curb, gutter and sidewalks or a trail.
As it stands now, this part of the easement is undeveloped. Instead, the sanitation district has granted a separate, 40-foot-wide access easement to JEM Partners. This easement is a little further to the east and contains a dike originally designed to keep runoff out of the sewer lagoons. A 15-foot-wide dirt road runs along the top of the dike.
The plan presented to town council at its Oct. 23 meeting would include a complex series of land swaps.
The sanitation district would donate to the town a 25-foot-wide strip of land next to the MAT building to widen that original access easement back out to 80 feet. In addition, the sanitation district currently owns the small portion of South 5th Street directly in front of the street department’s yard, which it will give to the town as well.
Once the original easement adjacent to the MAT building is secured at 80 feet, JEM Partners will relinquish its rights to the 40-foot-wide alternative easement it currently uses along the top of the dike.
Finally, the school district will deed over the land for South 5th Street from the edge of the street department’s yard to the JEM Partners’ property line. As it stands now, with the school district owning the property and granting an access easement, the only thing the town owns is the pavement for 5th Street.
By changing it from an easement to a right of way, the town will gain the right to use it just like any other street ROW, including the ability to add sidewalks and utilities.
When the Town of Pagosa Springs was originally platted back in the late 1800s, it ended at the south edge of where the streets department yard currently sits. To prepare and record a plat amendment will cost $1,600 and to vacate the other 40-foot-wide easement will cost $300. In addition, town attorney Bob Cole will need to review all of these transactions to make sure they are legal.
At the Oct. 23 meeting, council member John Egan said, “Maybe I have this all wrong, but my feeling is the school system is the one that created this problem by encroaching (on the easement), and now all of the sudden the town is being asked to go to extraordinary expense to figure out how we are going to better do this for somebody else, and I don’t know what we get out of it. I wonder if the school system should be picking up the bill for this extraordinary work we are doing.”
Town Planner James Dickhoff clarified that the proposal was to have the school district donate a substantial amount of property to the town for the South 5th Street ROW. Not only is this good for the town, but it will also be a benefit to the sanitation district because it would gain full legal access both for the roadway and for public utilities.
For example, Pump Station 1 for the new forced main sewer line, which will transfer waste water from the town’s collection facility up to the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District’s Vista Wastewater Treatment Plant, needs electricity, and that line could run along the new 5th Street ROW.
“I want to make sure I’m clear on this,” Egan pressed. “So you feel like there is a quid pro quo in this? We come out with property we didn’t have before and that more than justifies whatever additional expense it is to the town?”
Dickhoff confirmed this is a good deal for the town.
In a later interview with SUN staff, Chad Bayles, the school district’s maintenance and transportation director, added that this new ROW would also allow PAWSD to connect a better water source to the fire hydrants in the area, which is an additional benefit to the town.
“We just all needed to sit down and talk about it,” Linda Reed, school district superintendent, added.
Bayles said that the town and the school district have worked really well together, pointing to the easement for the Town to Lakes Trail as it runs in front of the elementary school as a good example of mutual cooperation.
“We just had to get together and figure out what was the best alternative,” Bayles concluded. “Because it’s going to happen in the future that Fifth Street will go down (to the JEM property).”