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During Tuesday’s Chaffee Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) meeting, it was unanimously moved to deny the Chavara Major Subdivision sketch plan as recommended by the Chaffee County Planning Commission (PC). With a motion by Commissioner Keith Baker, seconded by Commissioner Greg Felt, they denied the application and upheld the Planning Commission decision , which will be recorded  in a resolution to be approved during their August 2 regular meeting.

There were multiple reasons for the denial of the major subdivision plan. The Chavara Ranch LLC parcel is located at 9000 CR 140, Units A and B (Rural land); and 9254 CR 140 (Industrial land), all in Salida. It is a combination of rural and industrial zoning. the property is within the three-mile area of influence for the city of Salida, but NOT within the three-mile Salida municipal services area. Portions of the rough sketch plan would also be impacted by the Saida Airport Overlay District, which restricts residential homes in areas that might be endangered by airport approaches.

Chavara Major Subdivision Sketch Plan.

The applicant seeks to subdivide the 288 acres into 108 lots: 14 industrial lots on approximately 30 acres; seven homestead lots on approximately 80 acres (including two existing homes and open space for the existing, irrigated hay meadow).

That leaves approximately 150 acres to be subdivided into 25 large lots of two to 10 acres in size that would remain irrigated, and 62 small lots, approximately one-half acre in size. All would have their own well and septic system.

The BoCC pointed out that there were multiple reasons for the denial including the combination of rural and industrial zoning with a plan for industrial live-work sites that didn’t match the zoning, questions about the protection of water rights; springs, a small creek, and an agricultural ditch that runs through the ranch, concerns about road connections to CR 140 and too much density in the small lot area for land that is basically agricultural in nature.

Both staff and BoCC pointed out that the county currently has a moratorium on major subdivision development applications while the new Chaffee Land Use Code (LUC) is being developed.

Staff also pointed out that the proposed subdivision would be better received as a conservation subdivision and that the rough sketch of the concept supported that designation.

“I’m trying to make a place for my kids and pay off a loan coming due,” explained applicant David Gertz, who added that he’s owned the ranch for 15 years and with the rising cost of land and housing, he’s concerned they will get priced out of the community. “I want to preserve the meadow for haying, keep it as open space. I know it maybe should have been a conservation subdivision instead, and everyone is so busy that I couldn’t get a professional surveyor or draftsman to do the sketch plan map so I drew it myself.”

He added that in two weeks he could be able to get help from Mike Henderson, with the changes required.

The Chaffee Planning Commission denied the application six to zero.  But, said Gertz, “I didn’t get much feedback from the Planning Commission on what they wanted changed and would welcome feedback.”

“It’s breaking my heart to do this, but I have to divide it to keep it,” said Gertz. “The plan cuts off part of the land that is not very grazable and where we can’t hay it; that’s where we’d put the cluster, small lot areas. The larger lots to the west, they sit up high where it’s really dry, and down lower it sub-irrigates so we’ll still be able to graze that. The major thing is we want to keep the 100 acres that we currently hay and keep the water on it to keep it green.”

Gertz said that talking with other county landowners he realized that “Those bigger lots, people don’t come up here to water and they dry the land out. I talked with some developers who wanted to buy it and they wanted to do two-acre checkerboard lots and I didn’t want to see it go dry and brown. My goal is to keep most of my ranch green and pay off my loan. I don’t need to make every last dollar out of this. I’ve been building houses in subdivisions for about 30 years and I’ve seen the good ones and bad ones. I want to make this one of the good ones.”

Staff pointed out that submitting a sketch plan with a mix of zoning types that hadn’t first been matched to the plan doesn’t meet county requirements. They added that the visual impacts on CR 140 and CR 146 had not been addressed in the sketch plan, nor were protections of the springs and agricultural irrigation spelled out, although the first step would be to use the heritage water subdivision exemption right that the property holds. Pre-locating where wells and septic systems would fit on half-acre lots would be necessary to determine building envelopes.

Staff added that it appears at the moment that the property is being used as a HI camp (commercial camping) which has not been permitted and is in violation of current LUC.

During discussion, the BoCC  noted that water is of increasing concern in the valley, and noted their support for keeping existing irrigated land irrigated. They wondered about how the roads outside the subdivision proposal would connect to the proposed loop road.

Gertz answered that Poncha Springs isn’t close enough to be concerned about connecting their roads [to this plan] ” He added that he has already put in a water system near an existing self-storage area on the property to water the 100 or so trees he has planted.

The BoCC debated whether to grant a continuance of the proposal and allow the applicant to work out the myriad of concerns, or outright deny it.

“The PC recommendation was for denial,” said Asst. County Attorney Miles Cottom. “But the applicant is working on a different sketch that would be better designed to meet the current LUC – a cluster or conservation subdivision to keep a large portion for agriculture. The recommendation from legal is to remand this to the Planning Commission  to get a new sketch plan – it wouldn’t be redlined, it would go there to fix the issues that don’t comply with existing Land Use Code.”

It was pointed out that changing the application for a major subdivision to a conservation subdivision is a substantial change to the application, that would require re-noticing all the pubic notices and setting a date certain for the Planning Commission to deal with it.

“The problem we’ve seen in the past when someone substantially modifies an application – it undermines the work of the Planning Commission and our process,” said Felt. “At a minimum it would be remanded back – that would be the most general approach. I don’t see going forward at a significantly modified application from where we are right now.”

BoCC discussion continued after the public hearing, where the concerns over traffic, density unsuitable to the area, water supply and wildlife migration routes were raised.

“We often try to bend over backwards at our level in these situations to continue to find ways forward. I’m concerned about using that authority and mindset in this instance,” said Felt. “The scope, location, the number of challenges identified, the fact that we are in the process of trying to update our LUC – that’s why we have the temporary moratorium place.”

“I sympathize with the human challenge” added Felt, “but am inclined to support the Planning Commission decision and encourage the applicant to come back when we have our new subdivision regulations in place, when we’ve figured out our water standards… it’s a huge challenge for us right now. This proposal is based on a number of things that just aren’t solid.”

“I pulled up all the PC findings and facts and I agree with all of them except item #9,” said Commissioner Rusty Granzella. “I don’t see a way to support it today as it is presented. Hopefully the applicant now has some direction on how to proceed. It’s not my position to advise, it’s my decision whether to deny it totally or remand it back.”

“We acknowledge there is a need for housing, but we do have a moratorium in place,” said Baker, who went on to make the motion to deny the application as submitted. “The only appropriate action is to honor our process and follow our Planning Commission’s  advice and deny outright, then have it resubmitted as an entirely new application. I encourage you to review their notes and today’s public comments and the documents submitted.”

The decision will be recorded in a resolution to be approved during their August 2 regular meeting.