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County OKs new land-use plan near Hesperus

By Emery Cowan Herald staff writer

A revamped plan for an 86-unit subdivision north of Hesperus received initial approval from the La Plata County commissioners Tuesday.

The new plan was presented as an alternative to the developer’s original plan for the 1,769-acre property along the La Plata River east of County Road 124 that was challenged by the county as an attempt to evade subdivision regulations.

The 2008 plan divided the land at the foot of the La Plata Mountains into a jumbled patchwork of 35-acre parcels, which, according to state statute, makes it exempt from the county review process. Instead of going forward with litigation after the county challenged the project, both parties entered into a settlement agreement that let the property lines stand, but imposed some requirements on issues such as density and building envelopes.

Even so, commissioners, planning staff and the developer, Austin, Texas-based Cypress Real Estate Advisors, agree the plan was a bad one.

They all prefer the new development agreement approved Tuesday. The plan would cluster development on smaller sections of the property, leaving large areas of open space between homes and into the hills east of development. The 86 units proposed represent an almost 70 percent increase over the 49 units currently platted under the settlement agreement, but they would be built on smaller lots, which would preserve about 1,200 acres as shared private open space.

The development would be done in phases, with county approval needed for each phase. Roads, setbacks, drainage, water and sewer would be subject to stricter standards than the settlement agreement.

Commissioners agreed to allow Cyprus Real Estate Advisors five years to decide whether it would like to move forward with the building plans laid out in the development agreement or revert to the plans agreed to in the settlement agreement.

Commissioners Bobby Lieb and Wally White grappled with whether it was appropriate for the county to allow the developer to have five years to choose between either development plan.

County planners argued having both plans on the table for so long made it hard for the county and neighbors to plan for the future.

Ed Wendler, a development manager at Cypress Real Estate Advisors, said the company needs at least five years, and ideally more, as a buffer period to see how the housing market plays out before it has to decide how to develop the land.

The new development agreement, while preferable, requires further approval processes and is more dependent on the unpredictable recovery of the second-home market, Wendler said.

“We’re asking you give us a chance to let the project play out,” he said

A five-year provision provides a compromise, Lieb said.

“I believe strongly you will have the ability to make an educated decision in five years,” he said.

Lieb and Commissioner Kellie Hotter voted for the development agreement that allows the developer five years to act on the new plan.

White voted against it, arguing the developer shouldn’t be allowed to abandon the development agreement anytime it chooses.

“If we do a development agreement, the developer should adhere to that and not have options to skate out of it if they so desire,” he said.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

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