After nearly four hours of public hearing on Tuesday evening, the Chaffee County Planning Commission voted unanimously to prepare a resolution rejecting the application for Agastache Village, a 15-unit tiny home project proposed by Marny Danneberg on her 18.54-acre rural-zoned parcel located at 7440 County Road 146, Salida.
The resolution passed, despite repeated attempts by Danneberg’s lawyer Bill Smith to interject that they would indeed be willing to consider adding a deed restriction to the property, assuring neighbors that the size of the project would be no larger than the 15 homes. Earlier Danneberg had said, “We looked at that; my Realtor Susan Dempsey Hughes and my lawyer advised me it’s a bad idea.”
During deliberation, Planning Commission Chair Mike Allen refused to allow Smith to speak to make the deed restriction concession. Meeting attendees around him heard Smith say they could frame it as a deed restriction limiting total tiny housing on the property to 15.
The limited impact review hearing had been continued from Sept. 25, a meeting in which Planning Commissioner Dan McCabe said it was his impression that Danneberg was to come back to them with a deed restriction concession. County Attorney Jenny Davis interjected that a deed restriction was not the only way to address their concerns; she pointed out that a development agreement could be prepared with long-term restrictions to assure that the project’s size and focus remained the same. Allen and McCabe rejected that suggestion, and in the process rejected staff’s opinion.
Planner Christie Barton expressed doubts about adding a deed restriction. “I don’t think a deed restriction helps a property. It’s vacant land until someone figures out how to remove the deed restriction – those are set up more for a subdivision. It’s not the vehicle.”
The standing-room-only public hearing, which saw more than 70 people pack the room and left many more in the hall outside, featured a range of comments, both for and against the proposal. Some addressed logical aspects such as tiny home water conservation, quality construction inspections for tiny homes and how the site design clusters the homes while preserving a multi-acre open space and viewshed for community living. Others focused on the livability of tiny homes, the progress many other Colorado communities are making on land use code to allow tiny homes, the need for creative solutions to the county’s urgent need for workforce housing, its suitability for wildlife and native species preservation and the demographics of those who live in tiny homes who also want to be in rural areas.
“Every area is dealing with this,” said Mason Moyer, who drove in from Boulder, where she is chair of the Housing Policy Advisory Board and has lived in tiny homes. “How do we change the zoning? How can we become innovative? You don’t want to end up like us (in Boulder). We’ve lost community, and this – housing diversity – is how you keep it.”
Opponents of the project, overwhelmingly neighbors with two-acre or larger lots and large homes along County Road 145 and along Chaparral Way, complained that this was not what they had moved to a rural area to see. While several said they applauded her “lovely effort,” they didn’t want to see it in their neighborhood. “We’re worried about what happens when the fad fades, as most fads do,” said Heidi Krivanek. “We worked hard for what we have and our home out there.”
While the vote was unanimous, several planning commissioners noted that they wanted to support the project but that they were constrained by the county’s outdated land use code. The rural code does allow for clustering on rural acreage but does not contain an actual land use designation for tiny homes. This meant that Danneberg’s application was submitted under Table 2.2 for recreational vehicle campsites, even though the project is a year-round, tiny home housing community that would include a community building, community garden and extensive native landscaping.
“Staff is tasked with the administrative interpretation of 2.2. Part of that can and does include determination of a similar use,” said Planning Manager Jon Roorda. “Staff did make a determination that this use is more similar to a campground than to anything else in our land use code.”
“This is an innovative use and can qualify under RV parks,” said Planning Commissioner Marjo Curgus. “Our code generally connects to our recreation-based economy. We talked about the ‘once an RV park, always an RV park,’ but is there a way to be creative?”
Commissioners did not seem interested in the chart that Danneberg had prepared following their comments during the Sept. 25 meeting, where they expressed concerns over the project’s impact (although as a limited impact review not a major impact study, she would not have had to prepare it). The chart showed that the impacts of 15 tiny homes on the parcel – for everything from building footprints, septic, wildlife, viewsheds, light, noise and traffic – was less than half the impact of eight large homes on two-acre lots.
“I don’t think this is about the impacts or even limiting me to 15 tiny homes. That wasn’t what it was about,” said Danneberg. “When they couldn’t make that stick, then they went to density – none of their arguments really stand. What it was really about was the neighbors. What the planning commission did was endorsed NIMBYs (“Not in my backyard”) in this place like I’ve never seen endorsed before. In the end they came up with something else to turn this down – they took the code and they twisted it to make it so this wouldn’t work.”
Danneberg, who admits to being devastated at the rejection of her dream, spent more than a year working with the Chaffee County Planning Department doing three pre-application meetings with Barton and Roorda. She laid out her vision for the property at her first meeting with them in October 2018, before she had even made an offer to buy it. “It was always, ‘Here is what I want to create – help me through what I have to do to create a community of tiny houses.’ I didn’t care if they were on a foundation or wheels – I did what I was told to do. I laid this all out before I bought the property in January. I did that only after they went over the land use code with me, and we reviewed whether it was zoned right. They said it was. No one ever said, ‘This isn’t appropriate in this zone.’ I’ve invested more than $20,000 based on that direction.”
Danneberg says she followed every direction county planning staff gave her to prepare the concept and site plan, from the commercial road access permit, commercial well and water augmentation to the on-site wastewater treatment system, solar energy plan and wildlife-friendly habitat. “I submitted it under the land use code they told me was the only one that fit,” she explained. “Everything I have done was at the direction of the staff, and now I hear the commissioners think it was never appropriate for this use? Do they talk? Either we’re paying people who don’t know what they’re doing or we have commissioners willing to throw the staff under the bus. I never realized the commissioners could shut down the staff that way. Normally the county planners are keeping the commissioners in line. Here, it seems the commissioners run the planners.”
The Planning Commission indicated that perhaps approaching the project as a different type of development might be a way forward toward approval. “I’d feel better if this were a planned development, and not a limited impact review,” said Allen.
Danneberg says she doesn’t know what to believe. “I don’t know what I will do. I have no trust whatsoever in the planning commission. Why would I? What will they twist then to make it not happen?”