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As difficult as it has been to keep holding public hearings during the coronavirus pandemic known as COVID-19, the Chaffee County Planning Commission has kept going, holding both land use applications and continuing work on the Chaffee County Comprehensive Plan. Last week it held two public hearings on land use.

The Rio Frio Minor Subdivision Final Plat, part of the Nestlé Waters North America Inc/Jacobson Boundary Line Adjustment, was recommended for approval to the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners.

The plan for the 27.6-acre parcel at 23255 CR 300, Buena Vista would subdivide it into four lots, all approximately five acres in size, with two out lots of 2.1 and 2.6 acres, with a dedicated right-of-way. The land is adjacent to both the Nestlé Water property and near Browns Canyon National Monument and has 300 ft. of frontage on CR 300.

The Rio Frio Minor Subdivision is about one-half mile from the 17,922 acre Browns Canyon in Chaffee County. Approval of the final plat includes 40 ft. setbacks from the river, high up on ridge ground out of sight of the river. Photo by Bob Wick.

Co-applicant Laurie Jacobson explained that she and husband Steve Jacobson are planning the lots are for their four children, and she doesn’t know when or if they might choose to build on the lots. She asked for a waiver to keep the narrow 20 ft.-wide road as a very low volume road, rather than the county’s standard of 24 ft. so that people (tourists going to Browns Canyon) wouldn’t begin to drive down the road.

“This is a low volume road,” said County Planning Manager Jon Roorda. “Chaffee Fire wants it to be this standard.”

Jacobson asked about the 40 ft. setback from the Arkansas River, and whether if her children asked for a variance of that standard at some point in the future, it might be considered.

“The reason for the variance is slope stability and visual impact from the river,” said Roorda. “If an owner of one of these lots wanted to build closer they would have to get a slope study, and it would require a plat amendment approved by the BoCC.”

During public comment, Susan Nies, a member of Chaffee County Heritage Area Advisory Program board (CHOP) spoke. “I’m not speaking for or against, I’m just saying that this parcel of land sits at the entryway to Browns Canyon National Monument. So what you do will set a precedent. There is nothing out there right now. It is very important how this looks for the future. We appreciated the size and number of lots, plus open space is being dedicated. But CHOP will oppose any further subdividing of these lots. Also, there is a herd of Bighorn sheep to be protected, so dogs should not be allowed to run free.”

Roorda said, “The owner is actively working with Nestlé to restore wildlife in the wildlife corridor.”

The motion to recommend approval of the sketch final plat was made by Planning Commissioner Bill Baker, seconded by David Kelly, and passed unanimously.

The second public hearing of the night was held for the Bear Trail Filing III Minor Subdivision Sketch Plan, located at 31180 Kodiak Court, Buena Vista. The parcel is zoned commercial. Applicant Richard Junker for Cake Town Properties, LLC is beginning the request to re-subdivide 10.28 acres into three (3) lots with the minimum being 2.4 acres, with wells and on-site wastewater treatment systems to serve the property.

“We bought this and it was zoned commercial to begin with – it’s always been zoned commercial,” said applicant Junker. “There is no way to put in a 20 residential unit development, so [we got] the idea of peeling off a couple of lots on the south end, that will limit the amount of commercial on the north end. I know people are upset about it, but the whole lot could be developed commercially.”

Several nearby residents spoke during the public hearing, first expressing their concerns that the Planning Commission hadn’t gotten or read their objection letters.

“The letters will go into the public record and will be in future packet,” said Roorda.

County Planning Staff and County Legal pointed out that the letters were received the day before and the day of the public hearing, and it was too late to get them into the Planning Commission packets for the meeting. They reminded the public that there are county submission deadlines to get information into the packets.

Among neighbors’ concerns are; where driveway access would be given because the neighbors each owned a portion of the private road for the subdivision, what trees would be cut down, protection of the more valuable trees, and concerns over setback from the road for structure construction, as well as general concern that anything commercial might be done with a portion of the private property.

“In the next stage, there will be a review by the Colorado State Forest Service at the next agency review,” said Roorda. “So for instance, it could have a requirement that no trees are cut except in case of forest health.”

Planning Commissioner Bill Baker pointed out that this is the beginning of the proposal process, not the end. “There will be multiple opportunities for comment – this is the beginning of the public review process.”

“Once it goes to agency review, those comments will be posted on the website, you can add public comments,” said Asst. County Attorney Daniel Tom. “What you submitted is part of the packet when this comes to the Planning Commission and the BoCC.”

“It’s important to note that some of the things you [the neighbors] are raising are outside the purview of the planning commission,” added Baker. “There are old contracts you’re talking about, land use agreements between the developer and original owners, but not new owners, for instance.”

Baker made the motion to accept the Minor Subdivision Sketch Plan with the findings and conditions and Hank Held seconded. It was approved unanimously.