In what appeared to be a reluctantly unanimous vote for the board chair during their April 3 special hearing on the topic, Chaffee County Commissioners rejected the appeal for Agastache Village, a 15-unit tiny home project proposed by Marny Danneberg on her 18.54-acre rural-zoned parcel located at 7440 County Road 146, Salida. The motion made by Commissioner Rusty Granzella was seconded by Commissioner Keith Baker. Chair Greg Felt, who had earlier indicated that he’d prefer to continue the session to dive into the land use code details associated with the decision, called the vote, which upheld the planning commission’s rejection of the application.
“I don’t see any change in the details that would change my mind,” said Granzella who sided with nearby residents of two-acre lots with big homes in the area. “The intent statement is in the code – this is not in the right place. The [neighbors] understood this as two-acre lots, and they should see that continue. They based their living there on that.”
The Agastache Village Tiny Home/RV Park application was submitted under the only section of the Chaffee County Land Use Code that exists in which to place it – section 7.8.6 — containing the standards for a campground/RV park. An RV park is a permitted use in a county rural zone. The area of the proposal, between CR 120 and CR 140 between Salida and Poncha Springs, is an area in transition.
The planning commission rejection of the limited impact review gave three reasons for denial. First, based on the two-acre lot standard, that it exceeds maximum density for full-time residents in a rural zone. Second, that it hadn’t proved the wastewater system for 15 units, and that it hadn’t shown an adequate non-community drinking water system for 15 units. The last two reasons were not required to be fully-planned at that stage of limited impact review.
Danneberg said she began working with Chaffee County staff more than 18 months ago on Agastache Village before she had even bought the property. “My vision is for a tiny house community with an emphasis on community – a community garden, agriculture, chickens, the tenants vetted as people who know about living in a tiny home … these are high-quality homes, not little shacks in the back yard.”
“I met with [development staff] and said this is what I want to do, how should I do this?” said Danneberg. “I did what they asked – everything they said, I did. We figured out where tiny homes would fit into the code before I even bought the property. I tried to be as upfront as possible.”
Staff had suggested that Danneberg’s engineers structure the Agastache Village project into two phases: the first phase infrastructure for 12 pads for placement of the 400 sq. ft. tiny homes. At the second phase (adding three more tiny homes for a total of 15) the project would be required to meet CDPHE (Colorado drinking water system) standards, adding the upgraded drinking water system and wastewater system.
That move referencing “phases,” was interpreted by neighbors opposed to the project as an attempt to hide a plan to add hundreds more RV sites to the property. Danneberg’s lawyer Bill Smith denied this.
“The density the planning commission used came out of the blue and had nothing to do with our application – first they said [section] 7.8.6 – which would legally allow 20 units per acre in an RV park,” said Smith. “Then they changed it to one unit per two acres, not what we expected to be judged on. With her use by right, she could subdivide into nine two-acre lots – with nine wells, not one central well. We think the planning commission just picked this [lot objection].”
Smith said he listened to the May 2018 planning commission session discussion about what to do with people living permanently in RVs. At that time, one of them asked: “what is the difference between one person staying for 52 weeks, or 52 people living in an RV for one week each?”
“I think this is an opportunity for the county to get ahead of the code,” said Smith, noting that other Colorado counties are beginning to make code changes addressing tiny homes to catch up with housing needs.
Smith and his engineers presented information about the high-quality building standards to which the tiny homes are built, known as IRC Appendix Q. He noted that these are not popup trailers or shoddy construction and the average cost is $65,000 to $110,000.
Nearby residents to the proposed Agastache Village countered, saying that people who lived in houses on wheels were not intending to be permanent members of the community and that the transient nature of this made it suspect. “It’s not the mindset of people who mean to put down roots. It’s not people who are planning to be part of the community,” said one.
Granzella, noting his experience as a landlord, questioned whether tiny homes were truly affordable.
Felt asked County Attorney Jenny Davis whether a county development agreement could be used to ensure that Danneberg did what she promised and if it would limit future additions above the proposed 15 units.
Chaffee County Planner Christy Barton said that the county regularly uses development agreements to add an enforcement scope to development projects.
Chaffee County Engineer Gary Greiner said that the water and wastewater systems for Agastache Village would meet all Colorado standards and the phasing plan was a typical approach.
“I am not of a firm mind yet, I have to say,” said Felt. “I want to take my notes, and run it against the code, and against the staff process, we went through. I have some issues with how we did this. Not that we were wrong, but I raised questions because I want to understand it well and learn from this. But I won’t do that to everybody if you guys know where you are. I’m open to a continuance.”
Granzella said he didn’t see the project fitting “an area established as rural, I don’t see enough conditions to make it work … and allow for the continuance of [their] rural lifestyle. I see that ditch up there and the first thing you’re going to do as little kids is go up there and play in it. We’re talking about 16 units instead of the nine [on two-acre lots].”
Granzella did not explain why he thought children who might be living in tiny homes were more likely to cause ditch trouble than the potentially larger number of kids who might live in large homes on two-acre lots.
Baker asked Davis if in their decision they could consider the county’s urgent need for workforce housing. Davis said they could only make their decision based on the code in front of them.
“As much as I feel like we need that niche of housing I tend to agree with Granzella,” said Baker. “Is this where we need it, or is that where we want it? I have a hard time seeing it there – I know what the code says about the nature of a rural community.”