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Pagosa Springs
Thursday, June 8, 2023

Geodesic dome project along U.S. 160 granted Riverwalk trail easement

By Chris Mannara
Staff Writer

The Pagosa Springs Town Council heard a proposal regarding a relocation of an existing platted Riverwalk trail easement to accommodate geodesic domes for a lodging operation during a regular meeting on April 6.

Agenda documentation explains that the property location, 1320 East U.S. 160, is about 5.2 acres and the property is slated to hold about 12 to 16 geodesic domes.

The applicant had previously presented a sketch major design review application to the Pagosa Springs Planning Commission at a meeting on March 21, with the application being approved.

According to agenda documentation, the applicant is looking to relocate the Riverwalk trail easement from along the river floodway line to a location that is more internal on the property as a way to give privacy to the lodging units and guests.

This would also serve as a 10-foot-wide public trail and guest access to the lodging domes, agenda documentation notes.

Planning Director James Dickhoff explained that the easement was acquired by the town around 2005 due to a proposed development on the vacant lot at that time.

“There’s two things that are untypical of a typical sketch review plan contingency approval. One, there is a vacant structure on the parcel now. It’s a vacant residential house. It’s been there for many years,” Dickhoff said. “We are having some issues with vagrants, if you will, living in there. We were working with the current property owner, but he’s kind of backed off. He’s got a contract on his property.”

The town is working with the applicant, after it has purchased the property, to either board the structure or demolish it within 30 days after purchasing the property, he explained.

“The applicant is proposing to develop the property with some decks to put these geodesic domes on,” Dickhoff said later in the meeting. “They are pretty much right along that floodway line. So, currently, that trail easement that’s platted is generally along the front of these proposed domes. The intent on these proposed domes is to have the windows facing the river for river views.”

According to agenda documentation, the applicant provided the town design review board with two optional site plan considerations for the Riverwalk trail easement to an internal location.

Agenda documentation further describes that the applicant, in consideration of the relocation of the existing Riverwalk trail easement, would like to offer the dedication of a public recreation easement along the riverbank and along the southwest portion of the property, and a trail easement along the northeast property line for direct river access from there to the Riverwalk trail.

The first option, which is also what the planning commission recommended, involves the public recreation easement being 1.03 acres and 10 feet wide along the high-water mark and allows for public access along, to and from the river, agenda documentation notes.

Option two would have that public recreation easement be 2.33 acres and would encompass the entire area between the 100-year floodway line and property line in the river and allows for public access along, to and from the river, according to agenda documentation.

Dickhoff noted that the town currently has some recreation easements in town and they allow for river users to get in and out of the river.

“These easements aren’t meant for occupying or camping or anything else. They are really meant for user river access along the banks,” he said. 

Council and commission thoughts

Council member Nicole Pitcher explained that she thought this idea was a good compromise for both parties.

“I think the town and the developer are both willing to give a little bit to move this forward,” she said.

Planning commission Chair Peter Hurley explained during the meeting that the planning commission struggled with this application, but also thought it was a good compromise.

“Obviously, the easement when you’re considering a Riverwalk, you kind of want it along the river. That’s what we really struggled with, but at the end, we thought it was a good compromise. We really like this project. We thought it was a great project at the entrance to town,” he said. “We just wanted to make it work.”

Hurley noted that the planning commission recommended option one because it didn’t feel like the extended option under option two was needed.

“The applicant is also considering buying the property adjacent to that and is also considering giving us an easement through that as well if they do purchase that,” Hurley said.

Following more discussion, a motion to approve the proposed Riverwalk trail easement relocation and the recreation easement for option one was approved unanimously by town council.

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