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On Tuesday, April 6, Salida City Council hosted their regular meeting, after canceling their work session in favor of the annual planning retreat which followed on April 7. During the April 6 meeting Council discussed the first reading of Ordinance 2021-05 dealing with the annexation of the Upchurch parcel as well as Ordinance 2021-06 which would rezone the same piece of land. After lengthy discussion and public comment, the council ultimately passed the request to annex the property.

In regard to its zoning for the Upchurch parcel, the applicant’s initial request was for high-density R-3: a zone district providing for relatively high-density duplex and multi-family residential areas, including primarily triplex, townhouse and apartment uses. But that request was downgraded.  Planning and Zoning then recommended R-1 with future consideration for R-2 ( Medium Density Residential District). The first reading passed as written and the public hearing and second reading have been set for April 20.

Early discussion of the annexation at a Chaffee Board of County Commissioner’s meeting revealed that rural county neighbors felt uninformed and ignored.  The city’s March 25 session brought more citizen concerns. During the public comment portion of the April 6 hearing, five community members spoke about housing and the proposed annexation of the Upchurch parcel.

Chaffee Housing Authority Director, Becky Gray led off, describing the county’s current housing crisis. “Housing in Chaffee County is so unaffordable and so unattainable that we can no longer deny that we are in a crisis situation.” Gray defined the housing crisis facing the county today: including a $530,000 median sale price that is is 36 percent higher than just the month prior.

She also acknowledged that 80 percent of the workforce here cannot afford housing without being cost-burdened (which is defined as housing costs consuming greater than 30 percent of gross income). Cost burdening also means that people may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation, and medical care.

“This problem is exacerbated by the urban flight to “Zoom towns”, of which we are one,” she added. “Long-term rental tenants have been reaching out [to us] as their landlords give them notice to move because the property is being sold or transitioned into short-term rentals. The bottom line; we are losing ground in our goal to increase housing affordability. The crisis is getting worse.” On a brighter note, she explained that the county knows what to do about it and has strategies and plans. She then called for increasing density where infrastructure exists.

Proposed Upchurch annexation to Salida. Graphic courtesy Salida Planning Department

Her remarks were followed by Clifford Whitehouse who — without any proof provided for his accusations — cited the large citizen outcry against out-of-town developers, specifically calling out the Upchurch parcel.  “Whether intentionally or accidentally the [Planning and Zoning] annexation meeting presented information that was misleading or unclear,” he claimed, adding that in his opinion, “Many of the people who attended were confused, including members who were required to vote on it.”

Whitehouse continued, saying that in his view, because some of that information was not clearly presented, planning commission members voted with wrong or misleading information, mainly about what maps represent. “[Clarity is needed to address] what housing densities are currently allowed, what it means when a study is not required (but can be recommended), and what previous developers have done (or not done) or somehow sidestepped?”

He ended with the opinion that in his view, “no annexation should take place until the ramifications are clearly understood.”

Executive Director of the Chaffee Housing Trust Read McCulloch spoke to advocate for diverse housing types; making the point that density lowers costs and raises affordability.  He said that here in Chaffee County, the county needs to add 20-25 affordable units per year to meet even 10 percent of the current housing demand.  “Simply put, zoning, annexation and planned developments such as R-1 is the equivalent of building an R-1 moat around the castle of Salida,” said McCulloch.

Ann Daniels commented that she felt the new 2020 Comprehensive Plan has conflicting information (what this comment references was not made clear) She asked the council to table the annexation and revisit it later.

Last to speak was Charlie Farrell, who suggested that city staff decided that this project needed to be done before it was ever brought to the community. He agreed that the community has an issue with affordable housing but said that in his opinion this developer isn’t interested in putting 20 affordable housing units on the land but is instead interested only in profitability.

“You guys have no respect for the 100 citizens who signed a petition objecting to this project in this specific location,” said Farrell.

This caused Mayor P.T. Wood to caution Farrell about criticizing staff, instructing him to direct his comments to elected officials.

The county’s new comprehensive plan does conclude that as the county grows, new development should take place on land adjacent to more dense municipal areas. But it also sets forth this principle: the vision is “to keep the city in the city and the country in the country”.

When municipal areas are asked by landowners to consider annexation, state statute directs counties to comply with what the municipality decides. During the discussion of Ordinance 2021-05 Community Development Director Bill Almquist, explained that city staff recommends the annexation of the property. Almquist showed that the Upchurch property is just within the Municipal Service Area (MSA) for infrastructure and that it  is also at the edge of the future “planning area.”

Upright signage defines social distancing, blue tape indicates open rows and yellow X tape shows no seating areas in Salida City Council Chambers, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Merrell Bergin photo

Council members asked when a traffic impact analysis is required. Almquist explained that they are generally used with larger requests and done at the time of subdivision development application, not at this early stage.

An annexation impact report may not be required for less than 10 acres. While it was noted that Salida’s current Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with Chaffee County says impact reports shall not be required, the Chaffee BoCC issued a letter to the City of Salida requesting both a traffic study and an impact study be done, and it also asked that density for the area be set at no more than R-2.

Council asked what situations could limit maximum density.  Almquist explained that infrastructure and other conditions can limit density.  For example, if a project is to be a subdivision, then the annexation stage is the best time to negotiate with developers. If a proposal is a Planned Development, there are more chances to negotiate during subsequent stages of the project.

Salida Planning and Zoning recommended that the parcel be zoned R-1 for now, with future consideration given to R-2. It was noted that R-2 meets the Chaffee County Comprehensive Plan and allows for compatibility and transition from adjoining areas.

Almquist confirmed that a developer can always come back and ask for rezoning to a denser level, but noted that such a request faces many hurdles.  Council acknowledged that R-2 means that the city is trying to work with this developer, whereas with R-1 zoning, the developer could just walk away.

Mayor P.T. Wood added his historical perspective explaining that this area has been tagged as high density for at least 12 years, going back to erecting the new $4 million water tank to serve the mesa and expected future growth on the west side.  Wood added that this area anticipated more roads and a transportation plan to better link these growing areas with the rest of the city.

To watch the meeting, click here.