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The Chaffee Board of County Commissioners appeared to be caught off-guard by the level of community objection to an item on their Tuesday, March 16 meeting agenda; discussion of the annexation by the City of Salida of a roughly 6.22 acre parcel of unincorporated and undeveloped land between CR 140 and CR 141-A north of Shepherd Road.

The uproar resulted in the BoCC calling a special meeting for early Thursday morning, March 18, to approve a letter from the county to the City of Salida regarding the protections the county expects Salida to respect for the rural neighbors of the annexation.

Commissioners approved a letter to the City of Salida on Thursday morning, expressing their concerns over the impacts of potential high-density development on the rural quality of life of this area of the county. The letter said that they understand that Salida may view the area as a “mixed residential and an unincorporated area along a major transportation corridor appropriate for annexation and where higher densities may be appropriate,” and they disagreed with that designation.

The parcel targeted for annexation is known as the Upchurch Property. While the entire area connected by county roads is rural in feel, and it is surrounded by large parcel properties, the land in question is zoned residential. The concerned neighbors say that they have heard there is a high-density project planned for the land that is out-of-character for the rural lifestyle of the neighborhood.

The letter goes on to ask that the entrance to the area be limited to CR 141, that the county requires its full 60-ft. road right-of-way and “that the Upchurch Property be zoned Single-Family Residential (R-1), which provides for residential neighborhoods comprised of detached, single-family dwelling at relatively low densities.”

The objections from the neighborhood appear to highlight at least two issues with the way in which growth and development are occurring in Chaffee County.

  • The county’s intergovernmental agreements (IGAs) with municipalities within its borders appear outdated, and may not be up to the increased growth that is occurring. The IGA between Chaffee County and the City of Salida was signed in 2010, long before the latest growth trends began.
  • The neighborhood notification standards in use by the City of Salida on development projects within city limits don’t appear to fit the needs of rural areas targeted for annexation. The city’s notification guidelines of 175 ft. distance from the project boundaries do not address rural areas and targeted areas of several-acre properties, resulting in people who consider themselves neighbors not receiving notice of proposed annexation.

Harriet Alexander Field, Salida Airport. Photo courtesy of Zech Papp.

“There isn’t much we can do to prevent an annexation if a municipality wants to annex an area and the property owner wants it,” said Asst. County Attorney Daniel Tom. “We can ask questions like, can the city of Salida service this area with water and sewer. They are referring to it as rural, there are big lots out there, but it is zoned residential under our zoning code. The questions about density need to be addressed by Salida.”

According to Tom, the issues that the county can dictate are the impacts on things like road right-of-ways, and ditch drainages. The county road also leads to the Salida Airport-Harriet Alexander Field, for which an airport overlay plan is close to being finalized that would limit density near the airfield .

Given the recent adoption of a new Chaffee Comprehensive plan, the county can also reinforce the strongly expressed wishes of county residents “to keep the country in the country and the city in the city.”

“It’s three things: annexation, zoning, and development,” said Commissioner Rusty Granzella. “The request to the city is annexation and zoning. I haven’t seen a development plan. It might be out there – as far as annexation, the big concern is county property … the county can’t block annexation. But we can ask about a lot of things.”

An annexation impact report is not a requirement of a municipal annexation of parcels under 10 acres, and for that reason, the county admitted that this annexation request “got by them”.  But the Chaffee BoCC could make a request that one be done.

Neighbors pointed out that if developers begin to break off smaller (under 10 acre) parcels for purchase and request annexation by any county municipality, they could skirt ever having to do an annexation impact study and large tracts of land could be annexed without a study of the impacts on the surrounding county. As a part of annexation, the city of Salida does have to look at the impacts of traffic, extension of city water and sewer, agreements on who maintains the roads, and density. Lots just to the east of this parcel (a Walt Harder condo project) are zoned R4 residential, the densest of residential construction.

The county particularly expressed concern over density, noting that if smaller parcels were purchased and annexed, the area could suddenly go from five-acre lots to 500 residential units, which might have major impacts on the county roads and traffic levels.

During public comment, neighbor Charlie Farrell said, “The buyer bought it knowing it was zoned one acre minimum lots … the city tells me ‘No we don’t have to listen to county residents, we only have to listen to city residents’. That’s wrong if you start allowing them to grab small parcels like this and not require that they take into account our property rights; the rural lifestyle. Now they are going to jam 30 to 60 residents on this area – why are you allowing it? If you want to put in affordable homes, fine – but don’t make it a ruse to push density on here….tell me one mountain town that has allowed this kind of expansion.”

“Just because we don’t plan for something doesn’t mean it won’t happen; we’ve got to invest in planning,” said Commissioner Keith Baker. “The growth pressures are there.”

“The Upchurch property is now listed as R4 – and he had said he was doing R2,” said Tom. “He can’t keep changing this plan. R2 prohibits him from building multifamily and high-density duplexes.”

The annexation application will come before the Salida Planning Commission on Monday, March 22, and will be heard by City Council for a first reading on April 6, with a second reading on April 20 including a public hearing.

“No public comment is allowed April 6. Notices were sent out a certain distance from the property,” said Salida City Administrator Drew Nelson.  “I personally didn’t go out and post it.”

Baker noted that sending notices only to property owners within 175 ft. of the annexation parcel was inappropriate for county areas. “The citizens of the county that will become adjacent to the city, we want to see their interests and concerns at least considered and, if possible protected … every planning document says the higher density should be near the municipal cores and it decreases as you approach the rural areas…it is in the vision documents.”

“The best opportunity we have to impact future development is whether or not we can influence the density,” said Commissioner Greg Felt.