Summerhaven: The saga may continue

The saga of Summerhaven may not be over.

Pete Singleton, an agent for the subdivision proposed on Granath Mesa north of Dolores, says the developers are leaning toward appealing a district judge’s recent decision overturning Montezuma County’s approval of zoning for Summerhaven.

“We have another week to make the decision,” Singleton told the Free Press on Feb. 27. “But it’s looking like that’s the route we’re going to go.”

Whether or not the developers choose to take the case to the Colorado Court of Appeals, Singleton said, it’s likely that they will return to the county with another application for small-lot zoning. The proposal has already come to the county twice, but this time, Pete Singleton and his brother, Tim, also an agent for Summerhaven, hope to present more information about water availability.

“That [a new application] may be a quicker route [than an appeal],” Pete Singleton said. “We want to present the water information that we weren’t able to present last time and make a stronger case.”

Summerhaven is proposed for a 160- acre tract owned by the Singleton family and their company, Sin Vacas, LLC, on Granath Mesa about 2 miles north of Dolores. There is no domestic water service to the mesa, and water availability was one of the most contentious issues in the often-heated debates that took place regarding the proposed subdivision.

The Singletons came before the county planning commission early in 2007 seeking approval for Agricultural- Residential 3-to-9-acre zoning for the development, which at that time was projected at 44 lots and which was to be supplied with water only through cisterns. They were turned down both by the planning commission and the county commissioners after opponents raised a number of concerns about fire safety and compatibility with existing zoning on the mesa, which is primarily in large tracts.

They returned with a new proposal in December 2007, this time proposing 36 lots and having obtained permission from the state for each homeowner to drill a well. The planning commission again recommended against the proposal, but this time the county commissioners gave the zoning change their OK on March 10, 2008.

Three Granath Mesa landowners sued the county and Sin Vacas over the zoning approval, and on Jan. 16, 22nd Judicial District Judge Sharon Hansen overturned the commissioners’ decision, saying there had not been “substantial changes in facts or circumstances” that justified the reversal of their original decision under Colorado law.

The ruling came on the heels of another case in which Hansen found in favor of the county, which had rejected a proposal for a large evaporativepond waste facility proposed by Casey and Kelly McClellan near Hovenweep National Monument. The cases demonstrate the thorniness of land-use planning in Montezuma County and the vigor with which both proponents and opponents of projects will defend their views.

Pete Singleton takes issue with Hansen’s ruling against Summerhaven, particularly her contention that little changed from the first proposal to the second. In one portion of her ruling, she stated, “Both proposals relied upon water for the Summerhaven Subdivision through wells.” “That’s 100 percent wrong,” he said.

“That’s a complete fabrication of fact. The first proposal was cisterns only, and a covenant disallowed anyone to drill a well.”

The reasoning behind that, he said, was that the developers hoped to persuade Montezuma Water Company, the rural water supplier in the area, to run a pipeline up to the 7,000-foot-elevation mesa, something that the company has said would be cost-prohibitive.

Singleton said the developers were going to charge a per-lot fee for each tract sold, and put the money into an account as a “giant carrot” for Montezuma Water.

However, after the subdivision’s first rejection, the developers changed tactics, opting to allow homeowners to drill wells. They obtained a letter from the Dolores Water Conservancy District indicating its willingness to sell augmentation water to the owners to make up for the water that would be removed from the aquifer by the wells. In addition, they drilled a test well to ensure that water was available in the area. They have since drilled a second well, he said.

“We had a full augmentation plan, with every single residence being covered through DWCD,” Singleton said. ‘I bought water for every residence.

“For Judge Hansen to say there’s no substantial change from the first proposal is just wrong,” he said.

Another of the main objections voiced to the subdivision by opponents was that it would be incompatible with the neighborhood. According to one opponent who spoke before the planning commission, there are only 56 dwellings on the mesa now, and the subdivision would nearly double that number. David Doran, one of the landowners who sued, told the county commissioners that more than 4,000 acres of Granath Mesa is currently in tracts of 35 acres or more, while about 380 acres is in parcels smaller than that.

No AR 3-9 zoning had been formally granted anywhere on the mesa prior to the Singletons’ application, as Hansen noted in her ruling.

Singleton maintains that AR 3-9 zoning, though the smallest zoning designation allowed by the county except for PUDs and urban-influence areas, is big enough to maintain the county’s rural character, one of the goals stated in the land-use code. “They look at a three-acre lot like it’s a condominum plot,” he said of opponents of his subdivision. “But that’s a big tract. In a lot of other places, you can have half-acre lots or smaller.”

He also said opponents misunderstand the concept of compatibility by interpreting it to mean similar lot sizes.

“Their theory is larger acreage, larger acreage,” he said. “So if you have one development with small acreage, you’re going to have giant clusters of small acreage in that area.

“The land-use code describes LIZ [Landowner-Initiated Zoning] as a patchwork. There needs to be a mix. Of the 4,500 acres on the mesa, 2,500 is in 35 unsplittable tracts. There needs to be some room for other people. What the land-use code is saying about like zoning means residential with residential, not having massive industrial [projects] in a residential neighborhood. It doesn’t mean lot size.”

Singleton said keeping the lots small will make them affordable to locals and people looking for summer cabins with easy access to the national forest.

“I understand that the people opposed to this are looking basically at us having AR 10-34 but that seems out of the running for us.

“There’s only one spot in the county where there is a restriction against AR 3-9 zoning, and that’s the Dolores River Valley, so why should there be a problem with our project?

“I don’t know exactly what the right formula is for our county to move forward with preserving our rural character, but you don’t protect rural character by removing everyone’s rights.

“Three acres now sells for about $75,000. For most people, that leaves living in Cortez as their last option.

We’ve kind of reached that price point where we’re going to have a county where the prices have totally outgrown what the people here kind of need.”

Singleton agrees with opponents, however, that more thought needs to be put into land-use planning in the county. “There needs to be more public input and more planning. We need to have mixed areas, buffers between different kinds of uses — I would agree with that.”

Singleton said he is frustrated by the process his family has had to go through.

“The appeal process is insane. I waited an entire 12 months to get this done. Casey McClellan had his decision way before mine.

“I’m three years into this thing. It’s crazy. I feel like I’m Red McCombs.

“We’ve gone through the wringer, spent close to $100,000 in legal fees to zone a property that is totally unzoned.”

From March 2010.