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At the end of a public hearing that stretched more than five hours on Tuesday, March 12, the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners approved a motion to prepare a resolution allowing the Centerville Ranch sketch plan to proceed to a preliminary plan stage. The motion included an extensive list of strict conditions, which commissioners determined would need to be met for the development to continue. The motion made by Commissioner Rusty Granzella was seconded by County Chair Greg Felt when Commissioner Keith Baker declined to second it. But it passed unanimously, indicating commissioners appear to be making a concerted effort to work collaboratively toward the best outcomes for the community, even when they disagree philosophically.

The public hearing on the Centerville Ranch major subdivision proposal has been continued twice; first on Feb. 12 and again on Feb. 21, for a combined total of more than 13 hours of public testimony, not counting the hours of citizen comments received during Chaffee County Planning Commission public hearings.

“I need to thank the planning commission for working through this; they looked at it before the adjustments were made,” said Granzella. “I’m a property rights person. I agree with the planning commission on the sketch plan and we should approve it with conditions.”

“As we embark on the comprehensive plan, this (proposal) illustrates where a transfer of development rights might work,”said Commissioner Baker. “It would be easy to move this along and hope that one of these studies would put the kibosh on this – hope they would do the dirty work. Well that’s not the way I am. It’s not in the three-mile planning area. It’s a wonderful plan, but I have misgivings about 133 units in that location.”

The process, which will likely stretch 18 months or more, has already been long. The planning commission moved to recommend approval of the sketch plan to Chaffee County Commissioners on Jan. 29. At the time, the plan was for a 210 home project on a portion of the nearly 1,000 acre ranch, with much of the ranch remaining in agricultural production and planned as a conservation easement. Since then, the number of homes has been reduced twice, and the sketch plan currently stands at 133 homes on approximately 495 acres of the ranch land. The latest proposal was made Feb. 21, the day of the last public hearing, which caused commissioners to continue the hearing meeting to review the new sketch plan.

“Because the roads serving this proposal did not change, we (commissioners) did not see the need to return this to the planning commission which had already approved it,” said Felt. He began the hearing by recapping the list of concerns voiced in the more than 130 letters already received by the county as of the afternoon of March, 12. Felt assured the public that commissioners have read each and every one and are aware of the concerns.

Those concerns have covered a variety of county hot button issues in evidence during the March 12 continued public hearing; the cluster design, individual wells and septic systems, ground water supply, impact on neighboring wells and water tables, the public’s wish for the landscape to remain rural, the project’s proximity to the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway and Brown’s Canyon National Monument, questions about density, traffic concerns and multiple convergent roads, night skies, the inclusion of smaller lots in the plan, concerns for the wildlife corridor and elk winter range, as well as concern for a small population of prairie dogs, considered a keystone species.

Jeff Ince is the owner and developer working on the sketch plan for the Centerville Ranch

Ranch owner and developer Jeff Ince said that he hoped the public understands the sheer scope of the ranch. “Centerville Ranch from the southwest corner to the northeastern edge is two miles. From the highway to the southeast quarter is one and a half miles.” He stressed that his vision for Centerville Ranch will be a 20 to 25 year project, occurring over several years in phases. He said it will include protection of the historic ranch structures, and is planned with sensitivity to the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway view sheds.

“Jeff has made significant concessions to try to make this more palatable to the neighbors,” said project engineer Tracy Vanderveer, who pointed out that the proposed project is adjacent to Mesa Antero, one of the largest residential-zoned areas in Chaffee County. “This is 133 homes on 505 acres the actual density. Lots divided by total acreage it’s 3.72 acres per lot.

Public comments continued concerns voiced in letters to the commissioners. “We’re here because of the decision and actions taken by previous commissioners about maintaining rural open space,” said J. David Holt. “The worst thing you can do is develop between your towns or municipalities.”

“The small lots on the south side, they create a barrier,” said Keith Krebes. “I don’t see any effort for cluster housing here at all, (you should) open wider corridors on the south for wildlife.”

“I am not all for ranches being subdivided, I am all for preserving the right to do it,” said rancher Chris Nachtrieb. “Before that ‘for sale’ sign went up – the previous owners didn’t see fit to do a conservation easement to preserve this ranch. They put it up for sale and it was there a while before Jeff drove by, and stood up to the plate and put up millions, and he wants to put in a conservation easement. The subdivision won’t change the easement a bit. The Bowen Ditch never turned on this year and they still ran 70 head of cattle there with no water. It’s going to continue to run cattle and be a ranching operation and it won’t change it a bit.”

A view looking west from one of the higher ridgelines of the Centerville Ranch. In the distance, the Chalk Cliffs.

Nachtrieb paused and asked the room “How many in this room was born and raised in Chaffee County? (Two people out of a room of around 130 people raised their hands.) “I will support whatever these commissioners decide legally,” he added. “ I support Jeff Ince’s property rights to do what he legally can with his property – I would stand behind anyone in this room if their property rights were being infringed upon.”

“I’m here 15 years as a refugee from suburbia and see selling off little pieces of land and water as drying up the west,” said Ed Berg. “When our laws no longer serve us they should be changed. The green is irrigated pasture and the brown is scrub land of those 35 acre lots – a process that for 50 years has been converting county areas into mini-deserts … there are well established models for land development to improve water retention. It takes education – and the Centerville Ranch project can be a model for how to bring back the green to Chaffee County. But other major subdivisions should be put on hold while we determine what is the best way to keep the green in the valley.”

Central Colorado Conservancy board president (and co-leader of the Envision process) Cindy Williams confirmed that Ince has been working directly with the Conservancy on the conservation easement for the sprawling meadow land of the ranch.

“I’d prefer not to see this developed, but land owners have rights,” said Williams. “Central Colorado Conservancy has been working on a solution with Mr. Ince to protect the views on the byway, to protect the three water rights on this land in perpetuity, to protect the wildlife corridors – respecting his land rights. We’re working on those solutions based on common ground … it lets folks know we’re trying to find a practical solution. We may have something next week.”

“I respect Chris Nachtrieb’s comments about private property and I respect Cindy’s work with Jeff Ince,” said Melonie Roth. “Looking at the difference in this sketch plan and the original and it’s huge.”

The resolution approved by commissioners will be on the March 19 regular meeting agenda.

Upcoming Part II: the stringent conditions commissioners have said they want to place on the Centerville Ranch sketch plan for it to proceed toward preliminary plan.

The staff and application presentations are available here: