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Town tables hilltop issue

While the shale cliff above 6th Street in downtown Pagosa Springs still isn’t fully protected, it did receive a brief reprieve last week when town council decided to table the matter until more research could be done.

Ordinance 814 would have granted a request by local contractor Peter Adams for the town to give up its right of way for the 6th/7th alley north of Navajo Street between his two properties.

Adams owns a strip of property between 6th Street and the top of the shale cliff. He also owns more than half of the lots on the east side of 7th Street between Navajo and Piedra Streets, west of the top of the shale cliff. The town retains a ROW between those two properties.

Although the terrain would make construction of an alley nearly impossible in that area, and the strip of land remains undeveloped to this day, the town’s ROW could be retained for other future uses, Town Planner James Dickhoff explained last April when the matter first came before the planning commission. However, if the town vacates its ROW, Adams’ plans are to develop the area into private residences.

During the public comment portion of last Thursday’s discussion, audience member Franklin Anderson explained, “I am a fifth-generation native of Archuleta County and I’ve been here over eighty years. I’m very familiar with this because I was born on 7th Street and I own property on south 7th, just across from Albert Lucero’s.”

Anderson explained that people used to use the top of the ridge quite a bit for walking and enjoying the view, but that wasn’t the point. “My main objection to this whole thing is skyline development, and I think we are losing the uniqueness of our town, and we will continue to do it unless we put a stop to it. Vacating this right of way is something we do not need.”

Anderson described where paths and trails used to lead over the ridgeline, but then said, “We’ve got to realize that the decisions we make … are long and everlasting, and it’s up to you to make proper decisions, because it is something we are going to have to live with.”

Before the public comment section, while the councilors were discussing the matter amongst themselves, council member David Schanzenbaker had described walking along the alley ROW. He said the ROW starts at the highest point of the hill, but as it continues north, the ridgeline curves slightly towards the east until, at its furthest point, the elevation of the ROW is four feet below the ridgeline. However, even then he had a good view of Reservoir Hill, though he couldn’t see the river.

Council member Clint Alley explained he too had just walked the ROW before the town council meeting. He joked that he wasn’t nearly as tall as Schanzenbaker, so he didn’t enjoy the same view. He argued the area would not make a good trail section and should be turned over to Adams.

Council member Kathie Lattin, who is also the chairperson for the planning commission, relayed some of the concerns expressed at the original meeting in April, when Adams submitted his first application. Mainly, neighbors were concerned with privacy on their property and about how safe a trail would be in such close proximity to the top of the cliff. They questioned what liability the town would face if someone slipped and fell.

After Anderson was handed a microphone and allowed to speak from the audience gallery — another new practice the town has implemented recently — Adams was allowed to come forward and sit at the presentation table to give his response.

Among other things, Adams characterized Anderson’s idea that he might dump all the dirt from the top of the ridge into the San Juan River as “ludicrous.” He also pointed out that the developers to the north and south of his property had already obtained ROW vacations for alleyway sections.

Once Adams responded to Anderson’s comments, he asked the councilors if anyone had any further questions.

While most of the town council’s earlier discussion had centered on the feasibility of a public trail along the ridgeline, Schanzenbaker was the only one who attempted to follow up on Anderson’s concerns.

“As I walked that (alley ROW),” Schanzenbaker said, “I noticed that if we didn’t have the easement (ROW) anymore, you couldn’t really put a house in a lot of places. You couldn’t move a house all the way to the edge of that easement because at the top of the slope it is a cliff on the other side. You can’t get very close to the edge there.”

“Well, my thought,” Adams responded, “is to take the top of the hill down a little bit and simply create building pads along there.”

Adams explained that, according to the town’s Land Use and Development Code, a driveway cannot be steeper than a 12-percent grade, and it would require some pretty extensive dirt work to be able to build the kind of upscale residences that he would like to see on those lots.

The town recently completed another section of the Riverwalk, continuing the 8-foot-wide concrete path from where it ended halfway between Town Hall and The Springs Resort to where it will connect to the 6th Street pedestrian bridge, which is still scheduled for installation later this year.

As it stands now, this section of the Riverwalk is quiet, peaceful and isolated from neighborhoods and human development. In fact, a number of cutouts along the edge of the trail contain benches where a person can stop and rest and enjoy the view. All of these benches face directly toward the shale cliff.

If the alley ROW is vacated, Adams would be able to bulldoze his property so that it is flat and even with the edge of 7th Street, thereby removing most of the shale cliff and exposing the entire south Pagosa neighborhood to view from the Riverwalk, Hot Springs Boulevard and Reservoir Hill.

No one on town council addressed this concern.

Instead, Schanzenbaker worried that if the town vacated the ROW it would unfairly increase the value of Adams’ property; Adams would be able to resale at a profit without ever investing in any type of development.

In the end, Schanzenbaker made a motion to accept Adams’ application with the condition that the ROW vacation is only officially recorded when Adams actually applies for a building permit.

Councilor John Egan seconded the motion, however, in the subsequent discussion, so many other concerns were raised — from whether or not the 6th Street ROW should be included to the legal status of the Piedra Street ROW — that Egan withdrew his second and the motion died.

In the end, the matter was tabled until more research could be done on the Piedra Street question and more negotiations could be done with Adams concerning 6th Street. Nobody except Anderson questioned how removing the top of the shale cliff would affect the character of downtown Pagosa Springs.

This story was posted on August 28, 2014.