Changes to town’s Land Use and Development Code enter final stages, public input sought


By Derek Kutzer  | Staff Writer

At both Pagosa Springs Planning Commission and Pagosa Springs Town Council work sessions, staff members of the town’s Community Development Department gave presentations on their recent efforts to update the town’s Land Use and Development Code (LUDC). 

These updates were presented at the planning commission’s July 25 and town council’s July 27 work sessions. Community Development Director James Dickhoff and Senior Planner Karl Onsager represented the Community Development Department at both meetings. 

Since early 2021, the Planning Department has been working on amending the LUDC. 

The changes are aimed “to improve development standards, right-size processes, expand housing choices, enable employment and economic opportunities and to ensure the document is user friendly for the public, developers, Town boards and staff,” agenda documentation states.

The potential changes to the LUDC document are the result of input from various parties, which include an LUDC steering committee, a project consultant, public input, and guidance from both the planning commission and town council, according to agenda documentation. 

A joint work session was recently held with staff of the Community Development Department and members of the council and planning commission “to receive direction on residential and subdivision standards, sustainability requirements, the new Put Hill and East End overlays and revisions to the sign code,” agenda documentation states. 

At both of the more recent July work sessions, Onsager explained that town staff also sought further input on these issues by conducting a public survey based on these questions that would give staff some insight into the public’s views of these potential changes. 

At both meetings, Onsager gave updates about the results of the survey, saying that the survey was open for comment for 30 days and received 56 public comments. 

The Community Development Department weighed these public comments and incorporated them into staff’s recorded recommendations on these particular items, he explained. 

He also explained that staff considers the current draft of the LUDC (available for public view and comment at as 90 percent complete, with just a few more kinks still to be worked out. 

Final changes to the document would be based on direction from the public, the council and the planning commission, he added. 

Agenda documentation states that before the new LUDC changes can enter into the public hearing and adoption phase, “any remaining policy questions or outstanding issues” would need to be resolved to bring the document to 100 percent complete. 

The main reason for these two work sessions was for staff to receive direction from both the council and planning commission on working out these remaining kinks, Onsager noted. 

At both work sessions, unresolved questions about the new LUDC revolved around new environmental sustainability standards, a new Put Hill overlay district, signage requirements and how to incorporate tiny homes into the town’s residential codes following a new state law that categorizes tiny homes as manufactured homes, rather than as RVs or campers. 


The current draft of the LUDC changes, in Article 6: Development and Design Standards, includes a section titled “Sustainable Site Improvements” that states that “all new residential with three or more dwelling units ... and non-residential development shall achieve a minimum of 6 points from” a menu “of sustainable site improvements.” 

Examples of sustainable site improvement items include planting additional trees, providing a community garden plot, adding designated car share spaces, landscaping that includes native plants, installing renewable energy systems, using high-efficiency irrigation systems, among other items that would allegedly increase sustainability. 

Incorporating any one of these menu items would earn the developer a certain number of points, with six points being the minimum requirement for new developments. 

Installing native plant material, for example, would earn a developer up to five points toward the total, the draft states. 

However, Mayor Shari Pierce stated that she thought the council “should review” each of these new sustainability requirements before committing to them. 

“I just don’t want to get things that are too onerous on people. I don’t mind us moving in a sustainable way, but, given the nature of some of the income of our people ... I just want to look at it further,” she said. 

To this concern, staff’s recorded recommendation states that the department “acknowledges that land-use regulations can increase the cost of development. While there can be an initial cost with some of the options, there are also potential returns on those investments in the form of energy savings or amenities.” 

According to the public survey, presented at the two meetings, 45 percent of the respondents answered that they agreed that “new construction and existing development making substantial changes should comply with the sustainability standards” and another 25.5 percent answered that they thought these standards should only apply to new developments. 

Overall, about 70 percent of the respondents wanted some form of sustainability requirements to be included in the updated LUDC.

Tiny homes

On the issue of tiny homes within town limits, Onsager explained that the tiny home section in the draft LUDC was “spurred on by a state statute change in which the state is building a program now to certify tiny homes on wheels as manufactured homes, rather than under the RV code.”

He noted it is unclear, in the state program, “if you have an existing tiny home on wheels if there’s going to be a pathway” to a more permanent certification. 

The results of the survey show that the respondents were mostly “split 50-50” on the tiny home question, with one side saying they are appropriate as accessory dwelling units (ADUs), with another side “saying no or I’m not sure, which generally if you’re not sure then you’re probably leaning towards no,” Onsager told the council. 

He added that the general feeling was that tiny homes would be appropriate in areas allowing ADUs. 

He added that when staff followed up with people about their concerns, there was some worry about the “temporary nature of these” structures — if they’d still have their wheels attached to them. 

Dickhoff chimed into the conversation, saying that the department is “kinda waiting for the state to provide the items for that program. We don’t know how they are gonna deal” with the question about wheels, but that the town would probably “adopt their regulations,” leaving open the possibility that tiny homes may need to go onto a permanent foundation in order to be considered akin to manufactured homes in the town’s LUDC. 

He also wanted to make clear that while “we are talking about ADUs now,” the state program does “kinda open them up” to being allowed on lots as primary residences just as manufactured homes are allowed in certain neighborhoods in town. 

Council member Madeline Bergon said, “In general, I am in favor of seeing tiny homes” fall under the manufactured home requirements and that “skirting” and placing them on permanent foundations could “mitigate the temporary-looking aspect of them,” as some survey respondents showed concern about. 

Council member Gary Williams also expressed that he “liked the idea” of tiny homes and favored “trying this on a provisional basis.” 

He said that “after the state comes up with their plan ... we could try it for a few years and see what happens.”

Signage requirements

On the issue of the updated sign code for town businesses, at both the council and planning commission work sessions there was general agreement to follow staff’s recommendation for a size reduction in the Downtown and East Village overlay districts.. 

However, Pierce expressed worry that only requiring the new regulations on new businesses would put new establishments at a disadvantage compared to businesses that would be grandfathered into the older regulations allowing bigger signs. 

Most council members appeared to support Dickhoff’s reasoning that the intent is to scale “the signage to be compatible with the area.” 

He explained the easiest way to do that is to base size regulations “on the speed limit” in the area, since “typically signage is out there for drivers to see the sign of the business.” 

Since speed limits are lower through downtown and the East Village areas, the sign size requirements should also be lowered, he noted. 

The staff recommendation on signage is to reduce “the sign height and size allowed in the Downtown and East Village overlays. This reduction is anticipated to improve the general aesthetic and signal that vehicles are entering a pedestrian environment. 

Staff indicated it will continue to work with the business community to revise the sign code to be functional, constitutionally compliant and workable for business and community needs. 

Put Hill overlay district 

The creation of a new Put Hill overlay district, which is proposed from 10th Street to Piedra Road along both sides of the U.S. 160 corridor received considerable debate and public participation at both of the work session meetings. 

The main intention for creating this new zoning district is to protect the corridor of ponderosa pine trees, particularly along the north side of U.S. 160. 

Staff cited the 2018 Comprehensive Plan, which highlights the area’s natural character and called “for the preservation of trees and views along the corridor, as the rationale for its plans to create a “buffer area” in the code that would preserve the forested area along U.S. 160.

The slide show presentation at both meetings states that the new overlay district considers incorporating the following design considerations: 

• “Protect and enhance forested areas with setbacks and buffers.

 • “Require secondary local road networks for connectivity in coordination with the CDOT Access Control Plan.

• “Consider design standards to protect trees and view corridors from public spaces for future development.” 

However, some property owners who were allowed to voice public comment at the planning commission work session expressed concern that the setback requirements, as well as the requirement to build a secondary road network toward the back of the properties in that corridor, would leave very little developable land on a property that is only “150 feet deep.” 

Onsager clarified that the code would allow much more flexibility toward the back of the property and that they want to encourage, especially commercial buildings, to have frontage on the proposed secondary road network rather than on U.S. 160. 

The “hard and fast” setback requirements would be implemented only on the highway frontage, he explained. 

Dickhoff added that the intent of the code is to be “site-specific” and the main goal of the new overlay regulations would be to “preserve that tree corridor.” 

He further explained that the town has had experience with this plan, before it ever tried to codify it, with the Pagosa Views development, where the town successfully negotiated the preservation of the tree corridor and the expansion of the trail and secondary road networks. 

Planning commissioner Chris Pitcher expressed concern that the new overlay district had not received enough public hearing or input during the process of creating the new district. 

Dickhoff replied that “the owners we’ve talked to ... are totally in support of it. So, I think there’s support for it as long as we are not encumbering new development.” 

However, he noted that he would like to see “more property owner feedback and direction from the town council to inform any final changes” to the code language. 

Pierce asked if the town may be “devaluing” some of these properties by “requiring them to have these tree corridors in between these businesses and the highway.” 

“I think that might be a big reason why they purchased a property along the highway,” she said. 

Dickhoff explained that the 40-foot setback throughout the property lines, as it currently stands, would stay in place. 

“What we are proposing is to still allow that 40-foot setback, but preserving the trees by siting the building so that you are reducing the amount of trees you are cutting down and focusing your parking lot on where you’re going to get access from, which is going to be that secondary road network” toward the back of the properties, he said. 

Public participation

The current draft of the updated LUDC, which staff considers 90 percent complete, is available for view and comment at 

The site states that public input is “essential to ensure the code revisions align with the community’s needs and vision.”

Final stages for the adoption of the LUDC changes are slated for this fall. 

The LUDC document will receive a public hearings at a planning commission meeting and would also require the document to obtain the approval of the majority of town council through two readings. 

MyPagosa states: “With adequate public response and Town Council support, staff anticipates bringing the code to a public hearing for Planning Commission’s recommendation on September 12, 2023. The Town Council first reading for adoption is expected October 3, 2023 and the second reading on October 19 or November 7 depending on feedback from the first reading.”