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Following a public hearing not quite as contentious as an earlier hearing in front of the Planning Commission, the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners approved a sketch plan for the Larks Perch Major Subdivision application, but with what they termed “significant conditions.” While normally Commissioners would not see the project again until final plat, they sought and received legal confirmation to request to see this proposal at the preliminary design phase as a public hearing.

The Larks Perch Major Subdivision sketch plan, located at 9479 Hutchinson Lane, would divide 36.9 acres into 14 lots. Little River Ranch subdivision sits northwest of the project. On the other side lies the Hutchinson Ranch. This gulch, which contains steep slopes of more than 30 percent and three drainage areas, was previously part of the Hutchinson Ranch. The Planning Commission approved the sketch plan, with some major conditions.

Chaffee County Planning Dept. staff Jon Roorda and Christy Barton said they expect significant comments from Poncha Springs, but haven’t received it yet. They noted that technically the sketch plan meets code for things like density, but per Article 7, it doesn’t reference things like drainage or engineering design, which would not be done until the preliminary plat stage. They noted that although the edge of this proposed major subdivision touches town of Poncha Springs land, it is too far away to be served by town services, requiring the lots to have their own wells and septic systems.

“A sketch plan is more than just determining if the lots and density meet the code,” said BoCC Chair Greg Felt. “This is an opportunity to throw the big picture up on the wall – to determine whether they want to make the investment. My opinion is to error on the side of being overly thorough.”

“The lane, if it’s in a drainage, I’ve seen many flash floods over the years,” said Commissioner Rusty Granzella. “The HOA really needs to consider this – just to throw it (drainage) down Hutchinson Lane – or Loverly Lane in the subdivision – it isn’t enough.”

“This is a sketch plan; our opportunity to hear the people so we can address the issues,” said applicant Tracy Vandeveer. “The next step has the engineering and slope analysis, this subdivision would dedicate right-of-way for both Hutchinson and Loverly Lanes. Little River is served by small mains, so we can’t extend there and the elevation of this property is an issue.”

“I’d like to ask for CPW’s (Colorado Parks and Wildlife) comments on this proposal,” said Felt. “Poncha is landlocked from the BLM to the south. We need access to the Salida Mountain Trail system to the east… it’s a defacto refuge for large game. We need to evaluate it.”

During public comment, Art Hutchinson of the Hutchinson Ranch family spoke. “We have serious concerns about this project. I testified the first time (planning commission public hearing). The project was rejected by the town of Poncha Springs. Number one – it’s not flat up there. I’ve seen boulders come out of there the size of cars. This is a major drainage and yet it doesn’t have a headwaters like a lot of others areas. What happens when 14 straws are put in the ground? What about fires in an urban area?”

“When you tear up ground, drainages change,”said Hutchinson. “That would put more water in the flood zone down onto us. There needs to be a hydrology study and a soils study – we don’t need more houses that settle. What if that water and soils comes down on us and fills our irrigation ditch due to poor design? We put that land in two conservation easement for a lot of reasons,” he continued. “Wild animals use it for access – we have always called it ‘the pocket.’ It’s a good hunting area.”

“I want to speak to the livestock portion of this. Not only do we run cattle that touch the boundary of this property, but there was supposed to be a fence constructed (when Little River was built), and it didn’t happen,” said Abby Hutchinson. “With this many people, with their cars and dogs, the elk, mountain lion, bear, and the traffic … we have a lot of pressure from people cutting through our land. People assume it’s their right – intermingling with my livestock, and the wildlife – when people interact with our land, we get pushed out of our grazing areas. In dry years we need all the access to our grazing land we can get.”

If you haven’t seen this property, try walking out there,” added Hutchinson. “It’s extremely steep and hard to even travel on horseback. When they say you can’t see it well, everybody from Poncha Springs to Nathrop will see these houses.”

Asked if Hutchinson was opposed to this in general, he answered “Yes. We don’t think there’s enough water up there to sustain this. We are all neighbors and this is a problem. When we sold this, my dad and I talked, because this was to stay as an open area. You can’t get water up there, it’s too steep. I’m not an engineer, but I’ve been around this a long time.”

Commissioners were faced with three options during deliberation: deny, approve, or approve with conditions. They chose to approve with conditions, with the understanding that many of the professional studies they believe should be done to determine whether this is a viable project, may be expensive and extensive.

Conditions include obtaining augmentation certificates, a drainage report and evaluation of existing culverts, to be submitted with the preliminary plan application. They also required that the applicant get a Geo-technical analysis, a slope stability study and if appropriate. a geological hazard investigation. They requests the addition of drainage easements, they asked for building envelopes to be designated, and that steep slopes be defined. They highlighted the requirement for a Division of Wildlife study be completed on impacts to wildlife, that open space or an access easement be designated to BLM land, and adequate fencing to fence out livestock be required. With cautious, but unanimous approval of the Larks Perch Major Subdivision, they require that the preliminary plan be returned to the BoCC for a public hearing.