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Over the past two weeks of Chaffee Board of County Commissioner (BoCC) meetings, and for the past several months, the three commissioners have dealt with a growing number of requests to subdivide land parcels using a unique Chaffee County land division tool; the heritage water subdivision exemption. The reality recently caused the BoCC to discuss whether or not some adjustments regarding the heritage water subdivision exemption need to be made in the county’s land-use code.

“It was originally created as a simple subdivision process to allow ranchers and farmers to break off a small piece for whatever reason – to support family members, to liquidate a small piece of their property for family members, to build a second home on the property. The point was to exempt them from the subdivision process. said BoCC Chair Greg Felt. “But now what it does is it protects the heritage well, so during subdivision the state well right isn’t lost.”

Wells are permitted by the state of Colorado. While the subdivision tool has advantages (it’s faster and less expensive than a regular minor subdivision), it is supposed to be used only once on a given parcel of land. After that, the landowner must follow a regular subdivision process (either a major or a minor subdivision). But now the BoCC is beginning to see landowners ask for variances to the exemption, so they can do another subdivision of what is often the larger parcel of the original heritage water subdivision action.

“In two recent cases, the county has a prohibition against using this on lots being re-subdivided – the point of this is how do we protect those exempt wells? This is the only way for [the landowner] to split the property and retain his well…I think by not allowing an exemption to the land used code (LUC) in this type of instance, we’ll defeat the purpose of the heritage water subdivision exemption,” added Felt.  “When conceiving of this concept, I didn’t foresee how this would play out … the fact that past exemptions are utilized, doesn’t have a lot of bearing on me – why wouldn’t we help them preserve their well?”

Commissioner Keith Baker asked if there wasn’t some other way to preserve the heritage wells and if not, whether the county should take steps now, without waiting for the planned LUC update that is coming along much slower than expected. “We need to revisit this in our LUC update…. we could do this before the massive [LUC] overhaul,” said Baker.

The application fees for a heritage subdivision exemption are cheaper than for a minor subdivision. “The application is $600 for each of them, but then the application for a minor subdivision is $750, plus a $50/lot fee for the final subdivision,” said Chaffee Planning Manager Jon Roorda.

“So it’s cheaper to do it this way, but are we creating an incentive to do this financially?” asked Felt. He added  “whether that is appropriate or not necessarily the case.”

Among recent BoCC approvals, all requiring follow-up resolutions:

Chaffee County is seeing increasing subdivision and development. Pictured: Tailwind Development, showing several of the 64 planned multi-family units. Photo by Stephen Hall.

The Scott Heritage Water Subdivision Exemption – approved for applicants Joel and Caron Scott for their rural-zoned property at 14410 Highway 285, Salida. It subdivides Tract 2 of the Powers/DeDominic Boundary Survey of 35.13 acres into two lots of 5.03 and 30.10 acres. The heritage well is preserved on one parcel, while a new well and on-site wastewater treatment system will serve the new lot.

Darland Heritage Water Subdivison exemption — A resolution on the final plat for the Darland Water Subdivision of a rural-zoned parcel of 58.04 acres to be divided into two lots of 5.00 and 53.04 acres, located at 34515 Hwy 24 N, Buena Vista was approved.

McFarland Heritage Water Subdivision Exemption  – Final of Section 5.2.3.K of the Chaffee County Land Use Code (“LUC”). The subject property consists of rurally-zoned 41.2 acres to be divided into two lots of 36.2 and 5.00 acres, located at 22865 Maud Lane, Nathrop. It was continued to Sept. 7 to provide time to meet with the HOA. The agreement would include the applicant’s agreement to contribute to the maintenance of the private roadway, now fully maintained by the Eagle View at Mount Princeton Subdivision’s Homeowner’s Association (“HOA”).

Peak View Water Heritage Subdivision Exemption and Variance — Applicant Sunnyside CR 190 LLC, represented by Shawn Allison is to subdivide 26.62 residentially zoned acres into two lots of 6.49 and 20.13 acres at 11415 CR 190, Salida. Concurrently with the heritage water subdivision exemption variance for the smaller parcel, the 20.13 acre parcel is being reviewed as the Peak View Major Subdivision Sketch Plan. The property was the subject of a prior heritage water subdivision exemption.

The development side of the project is already the subject of Planning Commission requirements of a water study and a traffic study.

Ludwig Heritage Water Subdivision Exemption Variance

The application made by Gary and Mary Ludwig for their property at 504 S. Pleasant Avenue on the edge of Buena Vista, was a request for a variance to allow for a heritage water subdivision exemption on their property, which had previously used the same exemption. It would divide 4.509 acres into two lots of 2.027 and 2.482 acres.

The Ludwig property was first subdivided in 2002, so legally it doesn’t qualify for a heritage water subdivision unless a variance was granted to Section 5.2.3 K1 of the county’s LUC.

A new well and on-site wastewater treatment system is planned to serve the new lot, but since it is next to the town of Buena Vista, there is an option to connect to city water.

“If you have access to municipal water within 400 feet of your property, doesn’t the state say you have to connect to city water and sewer?” asked Commissioner Rusty Granzella.

“Our land-use code doesn’t require a connection, that’s the state statute,” said Asst. Attorney Daniel Tom.

“The real test is proof of a real water supply,” said Felt.

“If they were to connect to the town sewer and water on the new lot, it would require that they enter into an agreement with the town,” said Roorda. “I believe they have already purchased the augmentation certificate.”

“We don’t want to connect with the town of BV,” said Gary Ludwig. “I wouldn’t pursue that; if annexation is required to get water from the town of BV, then our only option is to drill a well. We have purchased augmentation.” He went on to explain why the original boundary line adjustment was done.

“We did a boundary line adjustment to reshape this lot in other years, and have no desire to develop this property. This is the last division that will be done while we live here for sure …  my wife and I want to get this division made so we have a smaller piece of property to live on, and go into retirement.”

“We wouldn’t force you to connect [to town water], but the state would not let me set up my own well; I was forced to connect,” said Granzella. “I hope you get your well permit…but we should add ‘or other water’ to the motion if it’s needed.”

Commissioners were cognizant that “variance decisions related to these heritage water subdivision exemptions might create a precedent”, and agreed that they wanted to be careful to define exactly why they were doing something.”

In both variance cases, they first approved the variance, then they approved the actual heritage water subdivision exemption, setting Sept. 7 to review the required resolutions.