The Chaffee County Planning Commission has scheduled a special virtual community meeting from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17 to review the latest iteration of the new Chaffee County Comprehensive Plan –referred to since the kick-off in July 2019 as Together Chaffee.
The collaborative effort to update the County’s Comprehensive Plan is now at a new phase; which includes the second major chapter of the draft comprehensive plan, and the Future Land Use Plan (FLUP).
“This chapter is the physical manifestation of the comprehensive plan offering recommendations for how and where future growth and development should occur,” says Planning Commissioner Marjo Curgus, who has taken a lead role on the Chaffee Planning Commission refining the plan together with planning consultants Cushing Terrell. During the virtual community meeting on September 17, Cushing Terrell will provide a comprehensive plan update and explain the details of the FLUP.
The Future Land Use Plan is not zoning and does not provide any entitlement to any property. Instead, it offers policy guidance for the future and will be used to inform the update to the development code, a process that will include a more refined analysis.
Growth Assumptions Drive Land Use Planning
Cushing Terrell used a geographic information system (GIS) analysis to assess the locations where infrastructure, land availability, and adjacent land uses offer the best opportunities to accommodate future development. The plan makes some assumptions:
- It assumes that some 4,100 to 7,789 new people move to Chaffee County in the next decade, depending on whether the current or a higher rate of growth is projected.
- This population increase will drive demand for between 596 and 1,715 new homes.
- This growth is expected to generate between 1,063 and 1,994 new jobs.
Currently, in the entire county, there are around 800 vacant lots in existing subdivisions, the majority in the mid-valley and around Buena Vista. However, not all these lots will be available for future development. This represents a dilemma; exactly where will this growth go?
As of September 9th, for example, the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) had just under 300 listings for Chaffee County vacant land, 116 homes, and three ranches listed for sale.
“There is no doubt that we are growing and changing as a county, but we are doing it without any guiding policies. Our current code is a very blunt instrument. The underlying issue with nearly every contentious land use application is whether the development is the right type and intensity for the location,” said Chair of the County Planning Commission Anderson Horne. “We need a way to offer both homeowners and developers some assurances about their property. This plan is the beginning of us being able to do that.”
The plan proposes the county create eleven “Future Land Use Designations”, an increase from the six districts the county’s land-use code currently uses. The expansion of district types, say planning commissioners could offer clarity about the type of development the county wants to occur in each of the four subareas of Buena Vista, Poncha Springs, Mid-Valley, and Salida.
The Salida, Poncha Springs, and Buena Vista subareas are designed to be consistent with growth plans of the municipalities and aim to locate development where services and infrastructure exist or are proposed in order to accommodate more intensive growth.
“The FLUP creates land use designations which supports more diverse development around the towns. We have a finite amount of acreage in the county which requires we use it wisely,” says Chaffee County Planning Manager Jon Roorda. “If we know people are moving here, we have a choice; we can accommodate that growth on 1,300 acres or distribute it over 3,800 acres.”
“We all want to have a flourishing economy, vibrant communities, a fiscally healthy county and protect the things we love about living here well into the future,” adds Roorda. “The only way to do that is if we are smarter about how and where we grow.”
The Sept. 17 presentation will help explain the growth projections as well as the solutions to managing it. By introducing additional land use designation in and around the municipalities, the county and municipalities can maximize their investments in infrastructure like roads, sewers, and water.
Five designations currently exist: mixed residential, rural commercial, mixed-use corridor, rural commercial, and light industrial. But diversifying two existing districts could provide a better planning approach. If accepted, the new designations would allow the creation of locations for the majority of economic development uses, while allowing for the development adjacent to town to look like the development in the town.
Currently, the highest density allowed in the county but adjacent to the municipalities is four units per acre. These new designations would allow densities up to 16 dwelling units per acre and more diverse building types, depending upon access to adequate infrastructure.
Following this development path, say planning advisors, would create opportunities for more diverse development patterns next to the towns. This would prevent Salida, Buena Vista, and Poncha Springs from being surrounded by a sprawl of two-acre homes on wells and septic. This pattern, once established, is incredibly difficult to change say planning consultants.
“We have seen some creative developments proposed in the past two years that did not fit in any of our current land use districts,” says County Commissioner Keith Baker. “They were harder to plan and get approved than they needed to be, considering they mirror the development patterns the community has said for years it wants to see.”
“The FLUP proposes creating areas within the County and near existing development nodes where landowners can do something other than single-family, two-acre homes,” added Baker. “It doesn’t forbid this, but gives property owners more options for where to develop by right and gives the county the tool of incentives that can help create affordable housing and protect production agricultural lands, critical wildlife habitat, and aquifer recharge terrain.”
Four additional designations are proposed outside of the major growth areas:
- A Suburban Residential designation would allow more diverse types of housing than are currently permitted but would limit commercial development to neighborhood scale or home-based activities. Currently, many types of commercial uses can occur in existing zoning districts.
- A Rural Residential designation which accommodates and protects existing rural subdivisions with no changes in existing density proposed, but greater protection from commercial development.
- A Rural/Agriculture designation is proposed to support agriculture in areas of the County where agricultural operations are still dominant and there is only scattered low-density development.
- A backcountry designation to ensure mining claims develop in a manner compatible with surrounding public lands. While density is not proposed to change in the rural/agricultural designation, what is being proposed is requiring better subdivision design that protects natural resources, agricultural land, and the visual assets that help define the County’s rural character.
“At public hearings, we hear repeatedly homeowners concerned about the impact of development next to them, residents’ concerns about threats to our community assets, and we hear concerns from property owners about property rights. We can protect both what we love and property rights,” explains Planning Commissioner JoAnne Allen. “We learned from Randall Arendt [a planning consultant who presented conservation subdivision concepts last spring] about how to use conservation subdivisions and good design principles to build better developments without having to change density. This could offer us a win-win solution to a decades-long community debate.”
The County is seeking feedback on the intent and general location of the proposed designations and subareas. ”No doubt future land use plans can be challenging to interpret and confusing,” says Marjo Curgus, Chair of the Planning Commission. “This next meeting will be a great opportunity to learn what is in it and what changes are actually being proposed. We hope people can find the time to participate and this meeting offers some clarity.”
The community is invited to participate in the virtual meeting via Zoom. For community members that do not have adequate web access, the PowerPoint will be available for download a few hours prior to the event on the County’s website as well as a call-in number via a phone number. The Zoom link, presentation, and call-in information can all be accessed on the County’s website along with Together Chaffee’s Facebook page.
The entire Comprehensive Plan draft, including the FLUP can be viewed on the Chaffee County website homepage: http://chaffeecounty.org/
Featured image: Mt. Princeton looms behind cattle on the McMurry Ranch, bordering U.S. 285, which is designated as a national scenic byway. Photo by Jan Wondra.