Who owns the potholes?


Staff Writer

Try stopping at City Market on the way home from work.

After a hard day at the office, turn right from U.S. 160 onto Talisman Drive, but be extremely vigilant before making the quick left onto Country Center Drive or the setting sun will be in just the right position to completely blind you precisely one half of a second before your entire car is swallowed whole by a giant, ravenous pothole.

OK, maybe the potholes aren’t big enough to consume a full-sized pickup truck, but anyone driving a compact car had better watch out. And not only do the potholes get bigger every day, they are multiplying. With the constant freezing and thawing brought on by the Pagosa winter, there is now a string of potholes lurking between McDonald’s and Ramon’s, waiting to ambush innocent drivers.

“The entrance by McDonald’s has an underground spring,” Pagosa Springs Town Planner James Dickhoff explained, “and that’s why those potholes keep appearing.”

Then, as if the trip into the City Market parking lot weren’t dangerous enough, once you pick up bags full of eggs, bottles and other breakables, try getting across the remainder of Country Center Drive after a good storm — from the roundabout with the cowboy statue to North Pagosa Boulevard — where no snowplow has gone before and the ice canyons are allowed to form unimpeded to axle-busting depths.

So who does one complain to about the broken vehicle and ruined groceries?

“We receive a ton of complaints about those potholes,” Dickhoff lamented. “We (the town) only have a part of Talisman, not that it’s in great shape, from the highway to Village Drive. The entrance to the City Market Plaza is all private property, and we have been trying to work with a number of those property owners.”

“The town has communicated with several of the larger parcel holders in this development/subdivision,” Pagosa Springs project manager Keely Whittington added. She said the town has tried to convey, “a strong need for them to unite in a property owners’ association or other such organization to address the ongoing maintenance of Country Center Drive.”

“Unfortunately it is a convoluted situation,” Dickhoff added. “There are a number of property owners whose property crosses that drive. The town has been trying to get all twenty property owners within that complex to get together and form an association to deal with the road maintenance.”

Dickhoff said he wants to encourage all the business owners to get together and find a solution to this problem, “because they’ve got competition coming down the road here in the near future, Wal-Mart for example, and if they just continue to let these things hang out there and they don’t address them, and their customers have to deal with punctured tires and broken rims, they may lose some customers.”

He also wanted to reiterate that Country Center Drive is not a town street, even though the town receives numerous complaints from citizens about it.

Whittington said when town employees receive complaints about Country Center Drive they try to explain that it is not a public road; it is private property. However, she said, town employees do not give out the phone numbers of the property owners to the complainants.

“We don’t want to hang anyone out to dry,” Whittington explained.

However, she joked that it would be okay if The SUN hung them out to dry, and a little bit of research in the Archuleta County Assessor’s records revealed a map with a list of all of the property owners who own a section of Country Center Drive or who use it to access their businesses.

“We have met with a number of the property owners over a number of years,” Dickhoff said, “but not as a group. We’ve met individually with City Market. We’ve met individually with Morgan Murri, and some others. We’ve talked to Alco as well, although Alco rents from Morgan Murri.”

Town residents may recall that, last summer, Murri’s company, 4M LLC, put a fresh coating on its section of the parking lot, stretching from in front of Alco to the City Market property line, including that section of Country Center Drive.

However, while the pothole situation isn’t as bad on that end of the complex, snow removal, or the lack of it, is worse there. Many motorists can testify that leaving Alco and heading towards the roundabout during a snowstorm is a slippery, uphill battle.

In all fairness to Murri, though, the section of Country Center Drive after the roundabout and continuing on to North Pagosa Boulevard — the section described above with no snow removal and the horrible icy ruts — belongs to another property owner, and since that property is a vacant lot (to the north of the gas station) the owner has no reason to maintain it.

Murri claimed that, in the past, he has plowed that section of the road just to help out his customers, even though it isn’t his property. He explained the difficulty results from the shade of the large pine trees on the north side of that road section.

“We may actually send out notices to all the property owners in there,” Dickhoff said, “expressing the problem, suggesting a solution and offering to help facilitate the process.”

A follow-up interview with Dickhoff revealed that instead of sending out notices to all of the property owners, the decision was made to contact only the two largest and most affected business owners, City Market and 4M LLC.

“We’re just trying to help the situation out,” Dickhoff asserted. “It is a private property issue. We don’t really have any jurisdiction on their property. We just want to help them find a solution. We are willing to facilitate any meetings to help them get an association formed.”

In the late 1990s, when the development of the properties occurred, the land use code was still relatively weak, Dickhoff explained, and even now the code does not address the maintenance of private drives. “It does address the maintenance of landscaping and the maintenance of buildings, but there’s nothing about driveways. It is certainly something we may want to take a look at in the future.

“Ultimately, it is going to be in the best interest of all of the businesses there to participate in forming an association so that they can have funds to maintain their private access road to their businesses, as competition is certainly on the way. It is a competitive environment out there, and if you’re not providing a red carpet to your front door, then you could be losing a lot of business.”

“The town has never approached us about doing that,” Murri said. “I’ve been out of town for the last few days, but as of last week I haven’t seen anything from the town.”

Murri explained that five different property owners own various sections of the road, and he outlined who owns which parts.

“It’s pretty complicated,” Murri said. “I actually went to a few of the owners a couple years ago about forming an association, but nobody was really interested. What we would actually like to do, now that they have set precedent with taking Alpha Drive as an unimproved road, is ask the town to take Country Center Drive as a town road as well. It serves probably the biggest commercial district within the town boundary.”

Murri was referring to one of the agenda items for today’s noon town council meeting — the second reading of Ordinance 784, which will officially annex the portion Alpha Drive from U.S. 160 to Aspen Village Drive into the town. This section of road will be one of the main access routes to the proposed Wal-Mart site.

“The best solution, in my opinion, would be for the town to own Country Center Drive,” Murri concluded. “Obviously, it’s highly commercial. It serves a huge percentage of the population. Since the town is willing to do it for Wal-Mart you’d think they’d certainly be willing to do it for everybody else that has to go in and out of there to shop.”

The annexation of Alpha Drive has stirred up controversy since last summer, when the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners decided to use a quit claim deed to transfer ownership of that road to the town. Certain county landowners argued at the time that Alpha Drive was the primary access to their property before Wal-Mart came along, and was never meant to handle the amount of traffic such a large retailer will generate.

“I would think it (the annexation of Country Center Drive) would happen similarly to Alpha,” Murri concluded. “We would all quit claim deed it over to the town or reconfigure it in some way to make it a town road versus privately-owned property. I certainly can’t speak for all of the other property owners, but I can’t imagine they wouldn’t be willing to do it.”