By scheduling the public hearing on the Centerville Ranch Phase I preliminary plan at the Chaffee County Fair Grounds on Wednesday, Aug. 21, the Chaffee County Planning Commission was clearly expecting heavy public turnout as past meetings about the plan have generated. So they appeared surprised by the sparse audience that heard them give unanimous approval to the plan. Albeit with the additions of a few more conditions than in the staff report on the project.
The process will now move on to a 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4 public hearing with Chaffee County Commissioners, also at the Chaffee County Fair Grounds. Commissioners do not normally see land use projects at preliminary plan stage. They normally approve at the sketch plan phase, then see subdivision plans at final plat. But the intense and early public outcry about the proposal for the more than 900-acre ranch, by owner Jeff Ince and the Centerville Ranch Investment LLC, caused them to require this extra approval step.
The preliminary plan calls for 300 acres of the ranch to be divided into 62 lots ranging in size from 2.1 to 10 acres in size. These 62 lots and the geography they cover constitute phase I, to be developed in tract sections.
Nearly 600 acres of the ranch have been proposed to become a conservation easement, permanently protecting the ranch’s viewsheds. Among those is a long view across the ranch meadows toward Browns Canyon that is among the most iconic on U.S. 285, a national scenic byway. A five-acre parcel containing the original ranch buildings just received a Heritage Water Subdivision exemption, setting that area apart from the rest of the ranch.
The sparse turnout and absence of controversy could be related to the public’s satisfaction with the protection of the proposed conservation easement agreement. That protection was worked out with the Central Colorado Conservancy, after intense public objection based on a variety of concerns. While the agreement is signed, and county matching funds raised, the next step to secure the funds involves a long grant application process.
The unanimous vote exempted Planning Commissioner Bruce Cogan, whose family connections to the ranch caused him to recuse himself from the review. The meeting did not start smoothly. At issue was whether or not the public posting requirements (which are the responsibility of the county) had been met. The county land use code provides three notification channels that must be used at least 14 days prior to the hearing. They include legal notices in a newspaper, mailed notices to surrounding homeowners and signage posted on site. While the first two were done on time, the physical signs were posted two days late.
“Can you give us a legal opinion as to whether two out of three notifications count?” asked Planning Commissioner Marjo Curgus of Assistant County Attorney Daniel Tom.
Once it was decided that they had authority to proceed, it took two-and-one-half hours to walk through the staff report, hear the applicant’s contributions and discuss the findings and conditions on which the plan approval was based.
Only one county resident, Kent Wood, rose to speak during public comment. His concerns were related to water, traffic and visual (viewshed) mitigation.
Key discussion points included an emergency exit road slated to go north to CR 263, questions on building heights (all residents will be limited to no more than 28 feet from ground to roofline), and where recommendations from Colorado Parks & Wildlife will be recorded (as plat notes).
Ince confirmed that the plan has an emergency exit area that will be under a road right-of-way easement – between lots 55-56 – section road between two lots going to be conservation easement that should be blue???.
The traffic study done on a Tuesday to Wednesday time frame by the Colorado Dept. of Transportation was also discussed. Some commissioners wondered out loud whether a study done with weekend traffic would better represent traffic realities, but Planning Manager Jon Roorda said that CDOT adjusts for volumes and considered that weekday trips with multiple cars, and job commutes gave a more accurate representation of potential traffic volume.
In giving approval of the preliminary plan, the planning commission required both a stub road right-of-way to the south and a northern emergency exit and posting a notice of hunting in the area surrounding the residential development. They noted that there was further work needed from Colorado Parks & Wildlife regarding wildlife winter range and migration corridors. They added wording requiring Ince or the development’s homeowners association to fund any future adjustments needed because of the neighboring county shooting range.
Planning Commissioners complimented Ince on his preparation. “From the first process to the second process a lot of work has been done by the developer,” said David Kelly.
“Due to extraordinary effort on the part of the applicant it meets and exceeds the code,” added Anderson Horne.
“Our code is so vague it allows others to get off easy. Yes, they have done it well – better than others — but with so vague a code, this looks exceptional,” said Curgus.
Motion to approve the Centerville Ranch preliminary plat was made by Chair Mike Allen, and seconded by Horne.
For more about the Centerville Ranch go to www.arkvalleyvoice.com/initial-fundraiser-exceeds-100k-goal-in-centerville-ranch-campaign.