Look at the agenda for the Oct. 30 Chaffee County Planning Commission meeting and one could conclude that no one is going to get out of that meeting early, no matter what projected times are listed on the agenda for discussion. That’s because two public hearing agenda items have already stirred controversy, either in prior hearings or court appearances: one, a limited impact review for Marne Danneberg’s “tiny home” project known as Agastache Village; and the other, the limited impact review for an outfitting facility at 116000 Antelope Road, owned by Alison Brown (see companion article about that project).
The agenda includes an apparently non-controversial public hearing on a minor subdivision final plat of property owned by Brad and Sandy Love, and a limited impact review for renewal of the Dolly Day Campground for seasonal camping for river guides. Neither of these would have the planning commissioners and public out late Tuesday night. But the other two hold the potential for extensive public comment, especially given the outcry by neighbors.
The Agastache Village project proposal for 7440 County Road 146 is an application to develop a community on an 18.4-acre parcel of what are commonly called “tiny homes.” The property is zoned rural and has an existing house and well. Danneberg has arranged for a new well and well augmentation to serve the 15 tiny residences, which would be clustered into three, five-residence landscaped areas, leaving much of the acreage as open space. Danneberg will rent the pads on which will be placed 400-square-foot tiny homes with their own landscaped area designed, she says, “to attract people who want to live sustainable lives – to live their lives lightly on the land.”
The problem facing Danneberg is two-fold. First, Chaffee County’s land use code has not kept up with trends in tiny living where owners actively reject sprawl and what they call “large living” for a simpler manner of living. “This is a tiny house-on-wheels project,” said Danneberg, explaining her dream project, which was tabled at the Sept. 25 meeting for planning commissioners to spend more time reviewing the information.
The county’s land use code allows for recreational vehicle parks to be developed on rural-zoned parcels. But tiny homes, especially this project, aren’t exactly RVs. Technically, to approve the project, the county would have to allow it under its RV park standards.
The second roadblock for Danneberg is what she refers to as prejudice coming from residents with large homes on adjoining lots. She says many of them have proudly announced that they are “nimbys” – the acronym for “not in my backyard.”
The opposition, she says, is all the more ironic because the county continues to face an affordable housing shortage and she is trying to do her part to fill that need. In fact, the county’s Housing Policy Advisory Committee, which has been working on action steps to address the county’s acute shortage of affordable housing, took an unusual step during its Oct. 11 monthly meeting. It called a formal vote and overwhelmingly endorsed the Agastache Village project, encouraging the county to approve it now, even if it is ahead of changes to the county’s land use code during the development of a new county comprehensive plan.
Danneberg frames the issue this way. “Do we really want to be a place where only the rich can afford to live? Are only those with money to be able to enjoy rural living? They seem to think that just because these are small homes, that they are not quality – that the people who chose to live simply are somehow not as good as they are or not entitled to live a rural lifestyle.”
Danneberg says she has tried to educate the neighbors about the project’s attributes. “They are so wrong. This will be an intentional community within three miles of downtown Salida. It will have a community garden, a sanctuary for wildlife. I’ve planned extensive native and drought-resistant landscaping with a professional landscaper. This will be beautiful with lots of open space. Would they rather I divide it into nine, 2-acre lots with 4,000-square-foot McMansions?”