Council deals with vesting, annexation issues

Having awarded vested rights twice during the past year, the Pagosa Springs Town Council appears to have learned the ropes of entering into such agreements by engaging in savvier horse-trading with its third stab at awarding vested rights.

During the mid-month meeting last Thursday, council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would give 20-year vested rights to the proposed Blue Sky Village development.

Vested rights extend time limits on proposed developments, assuring developers that a municipality won’t affect changes in statute or agreements to the detriment of the proposed development. Colorado statute allows for vested rights, suggesting a three-year period. Under its Home Rule charter, Pagosa Springs can extend the time period for vesting rights and did so in May when it gave BootJack Management five-year vested rights on several of its downtown properties. The town further extended its privilege when it awarded 20-year vested rights to the Mountain Crossings development at the November council meeting.

The difference with the Blue Sky Village vesting and the previous two agreements is that the latest agreement was structured to include “proposed performance thresholds,” i.e., the developer must meet certain requirements in order to earn the full 20-year vesting.

The deal was struck last month during a meeting between Blue Sky Village representatives, town attorney Bob Cole, and council members Stan Holt and Mark Weiler. In order to earn vested rights for the full 20-year period, Blue Sky Village would have to complete improvements associated with Phase I of the approved development in order to get an automatic five-year extension. Another five-year extension would be granted after 15 years if the Blue Sky Village development provides certificates of occupancy for 50-percent of the project or if “required improvements associated with Phase II have been substantially completed.”

Council approved the first reading of the ordinance, with plaudits for Cole, Holt, and Weiler regarding how the deal was structured. Council member Shari Pierce said, “I am pleased with those who worked to come up with this plan for increasing the number of years a property is vested based on benchmarks of progress. It encourages the developer to start on projects sooner rather than later.”

Council member Holt said, “I’m pleased with the way it turned out. It was the first time we’ve sat down with a developer to hammer out those details and I’m happy with the way we broke it out.”

When asked if the deal was a harbinger of future vesting agreements, Holt replied, “I’d like to think so. I hate to speak for the rest of the council but I think it’s productive to sit down and discuss the details before we just go ahead and hand out vested rights for a property.”

Unanimously approving a second reading of zoning and annexation ordinances for Blue Sky Village (ordinances require approval of a second reading for final ratification), council gave the Blue Sky Village development the green light to proceed with the proposed development and, pending approval of the second reading of the vested rights ordinance, a 10-year deadline to meet for making the development a reality.

Adjacent to the Blue Sky Village development, the Reservoir River Ranch was unanimously approved as eligible for annexation. The next step in the process will be a formal request for annexation which could, if approved by council, take place as soon as early spring.

With annexation and vesting issues completed, council heard updates from Chris Phillips of Riverbend Engineering regarding the status of the San Juan River Improvements project. According to Phillips, the so-called “Davey’s Wave” structure could be partially removed in order to meet the needs of both the Army Corps of Engineers and The Springs Resort. Plans submitted to council showed how the structure could be left in its current location with structures put just upstream from the drop that would mitigate flooding problems associated with the structure.

Plans submitted by Phillips broke the project into three phases, with the first phase — the complete or partial removal of Davey’s Wave — completed by the spring. Later in the spring would see the completion of Phase II, the installation of structures in the portion of the river in front of the Visitor’s Center. Phase III would entail digging through bedrock in the portion of the river upstream from the Hot Springs Boulevard bridge and fronting Town Park and would not start construction until Fall 2009.

“If you start going over budget, I can assure you that this board will start losing interest in the project,” warned council member Mark Weiler. However, with assurances of volunteer equipment and labor from Bob Hart and Davey Pitcher, Phillips assured the board that the project would likely not go over budget.

With its own budget cut to the quick, council has attempted to respond to an economic climate that does not appear to be sunny any time in the near future. However, with proposed developments on the boards and new work on the river, council may have the buffer it needs to weather rough economic times.

jim@pagosasun.com