Turning the county into the city? A proposed PUD triggers fears that rentals will cause a loss of ag character

A public hearing on a proposal for a planned unit development of four rental houses on this tract of land drew a crowd to the Montezuma County Commission meeting on Aug. 8..

A public hearing on a proposal for a planned unit development of four rental houses on this tract of land drew a crowd to the Montezuma County Commission meeting on Aug. 8.. Photo by Gail Binkly

People turned out in droves Aug. 8 to tell the Montezuma County commissioners they did not want rental homes in their neighbor­hood, apparently prompting the developer to withdraw his application.

After a lengthy public hearing, the com­missioners voted 3-0 to table a decision on a proposal for a general Planned Unit Devel­opment (PUD) on 35 acres at 7231 Road 25, which is north of Road G and west of Road 25. The PUD was planned to include four single-family rental homes.

The hearing was to be continued on Aug. 22, but the application was later withdrawn by the applicant, Cole Clark, owner of El­evated Smoke, LLC.

More than 30 people spoke at the hearing, a few of them reading letters from other in­dividuals. Of those who talked at the meet­ing, just two spoke in favor of the project.

“There is a shortage of housing in the area, especially rental housing for those get­ting started,” commented Shak Powers, a former Montezuma County administrator who now works with Region 9. He spoke via Zoom.

“I am in favor of this because I don’t want to see anybody denied to make a liv­ing,” said local resident Jimmy Williams. He said the decision should be made according to the county land-use code and, although opponents had sent out information listing possible negative impacts, “there is no proof of more traffic and noise. These are accusa­tions I feel have no merit. . . The houses are needed.”

But a host of others came to the podium to say they believed the project did not fit with the neighborhood and would cause nu­merous negative effects.

County planner Don Haley first gave an overview. He said the parcel is currently zoned as AR-10-34, but because it is actually over 35 acres in size, Clark was also seeking a rezoning to AR 35-plus.

Haley said zoning regulations are the same for either of those zoning categories. Gen­eral PUDs are a conditional use in both the AR-10-34 and AR-35-plus categories. The county land-use code says one purpose of PUDs – which allow mixed-use develop­ments such as clusters of houses on a small part of a largely agricultural tract – is “to en­courage a more efficient use of land, public services and facilities.”

A common theme expressed at numerous county hearings in the past is that residents of rural Montezuma County should be al­lowed to do what they want with their prop­erty and “if you don’t like what your neigh­bor wants to do, buy his land.”

But this proposal elicited pleas for the county commissioners to reject it. Oppo­nents voiced worries that it would diminish the rural and agricultural character of the area.

“How is putting houses from-me-to-you apart, cramming people in, how does that preserve agriculture and open space and all the things that rural people want?” demand­ed Jim Dickinson, who said he lives directly across the road from the proposed project.

“I don’t want to see that stuff right across the street from me,” he continued, adding, “You’re bringing the city to the county.”

Dale Foote, who lives on Road 26, said property owners should have rights, but need to be respectful of their neighbors as well “and consider our actions and how they will impact other people.”

Foote continued, “The people who move to rural areas want to have some sort of freedom, some sort of privacy.”

Susan Kemnetz, who lives in Cortez, told the commissioners, “When a place is zoned agricultural it should be for agricultural uses, not commercial, not apartments. It does not fit. We are going to lose our agricultural land, it’s going to be covered up with these apart­ments and you’re going to regret it.”

Planned unit developments such as this one, Blue Mesa Estates south of Cortez, are scattered throughout Montezuma County.

Planned unit developments such as this one, Blue Mesa Estates south of Cortez, are scattered throughout Montezuma County. Photo by Gail Binkly

The proposal submitted was actually for single-family homes. PUDs have been al­lowed on numerous other properties around Montezuma County, but a major concern about this one seemed to be its involving rentals.

Margie Dove, who lives on Road 25 near the project, said she has had numerous homeless people and intoxicated people coming to her door. “It’s very scary,” she said, adding, “This will exacerbate the issue and make it worse. . . This is not the place for this to be built.”

“I moved here to be in the country,” said Warren Gaspar of Road H. He said he lived in Grand Junction, then Denver, but “ran from Denver to come here. I don’t have any intention of living next door to rental prop­erties,” Gaspar said.

In a letter read aloud by Mindy Nelson, Jackie and Chris Callister of Road 25 wrote, “The idea that this little slice of peace for us could be surrounded by rental units that have no use for this pastoral land is a night­mare. Honestly I am concerned about this bringing in crime and drugs again. . .We are not against the development of the land, one house per three acre parcel. We are against the current proposed plans.”

“I am a county resident on Road G.2 and I am totally opposed to any low income hous­ing projects in Montezuma County,” read a letter to the commissioners signed David Anton. In a postscript, he added, “No illegal aliens and no refugee resettlement.”

In another letter, Sandy Gates and Da­vid Hamilton of Road 26.5 wrote that they “have lived all over the country in some of the most desirable places that were once small, community-minded towns and cities; then boomed into uncontrolled growth with no respect for the land or people residing in these places. We chose Cortez for the very fact it has not been ‘discovered’ or ruined by the money hungry land developers.”

They said there are plenty of lots available in Cortez “for hopeful growth WITHIN THE CITY LIMITS.”

Not every letter-writer opposed the PUD. Anne Worthington wrote, “I have no objec­tion to this planned development. We need more affordable housing and I support di­verse neighborhoods – mixed large and small lots. I live off of Road G in a neighborhood of large lots, what one might call rural and it saddens me that people own these proper­ties yet cannot or will not take care of them. The volume of invasive weeds is growing exponentially. For those who grow crops or raise livestock this can be an issue especially if the weeds spread. Perhaps smaller lots are more manageable for those who want to live in a more rural environment.”

Ron Tucker of Road G told the commis­sioners at the meeting that a problem rarely addressed is light pollution caused by high-density development. “As cars come out of the rental areas, they light up homes across the street, every night and predawn for the rest of their lives.” He said if a PUD is al­lowed near where he lives, “My house is go­ing to light up like a dance floor at a disco club for the rest of my life.”

Melanie Russell, manager and owner of R and R properties, said they have multiple rental units in the county and she under­stands the need for them. “Rentals are need­ed for young people, but I am against this. It needs to be done in a way that reflects our community,” she said.

“People can’t always afford to buy a house,” she continued. “Rental homes are great but need to be on bigger lots. . . . we just need it to be done in a respectful manner that respects our cool and awesome environ­ment.”

Citizens also expressed concerns about whether roads in the area can handle more development. Stephanie Fry read aloud a let­ter from Derek and Marlene Dove that said, “We live on CR G and traffic has drastically increased over the last few years. These roads were never intended to carry the amount of traffic they currently do and putting an extra 16 cars making 2 trips out and back per day is just dangerous.”

Opponents of the PUD also pointed out that the county Planning Commission had recommending not approving the proposal.

Many also commented that there is plenty of vacant land within Cortez’s city limits where rental housing could be put.

A grassroots group that organized to op­pose the PUD proposal said in an email, “PUDs are being misused to work around the 3-acre minimum lot sizes that are repeat­edly stated and reaffirmed in the LUC.”

At the conclusion of the public com­ments, applicant Clark said he was born and raised in Montezuma County, has lived here 28 years, and was trying to build something nice in the area.

He showed a slide of dilapidated trailer homes surrounded by junk, saying they are in the area where his project was proposed. “This is the rural character we’re trying to protect?” he asked. “This is my home too and I want to make it better for every single one of us. If this is the rural character we want to protect, then absolutely decline this, because I’m not going to be putting THAT up.”

Clark said workforce housing is badly needed. He noted that there are numerous other PUDs already in place in the county, such as Blue Mesa Estates south of the Montezuma-Cortez High School, where houses are being built on lots of less than one acre. “It doesn’t make sense. They didn’t get the backlash,” he said.

He also mentioned that the property is within a mile of the city of Cortez, an area considered a “zone of influence.”

“I absolutely do understand all of your concerns,” he said. “I’m part of this com­munity but I am in this one mile of influence and we do need workforce housing.”

Commission Chair Jim Candelaria said he believed the project met the necessary cri­teria stated in the land-use code and would have no significant adverse impacts.

“You guys are our bosses,” he told the audience. “You voted on the land-use code, you gave it to us to govern by. If you don’t like it, there is a process to get it changed. There are planned unit developments all over this county.”

The land-use code says residential subdivi­sions require a minimum of three acres per home, Candelaria said, “but what is in front of us today is a PUD, not a subdivision.”

But Commissioner Gerald Koppenhafer, who was one of 12 people who served on the committee that created the original land-use plan, approved in 1998, said the use of PUDs has strayed away from their intended purpose.

“PUDs were put in there with the intent that if you had agricultural property and had to sell off part of it to keep your property, you could put some smaller lots on one end of it,” Koppenhafer said. “The intent with the rest of it was it remained agricultural. Somewhere along the line we have lost that.”

Koppenhafer said there used to be a deed restriction put on such properties so that the people who bought those lots knew the land was going to remain open.

“I think it needs to come back,” Koppen­hafer said to applause, adding, ”We need to have the right zoning for these things. If it’s going to be a commercial property, it needs to be zoned commercial.”

Commissioner Kent Lindsay agreed. He said PUDs are a tool to provide flexibility “that was put in there for home based busi­nesses, nothing else. . . I’m with Gerald. This has gotten out of hand. We have been approving stuff that was never intended to be approved.”

The board then voted 3-0 to postpone a decision while they awaited some details.

But by the Aug. 22 meeting, when the hearing was supposed to continue, it was crossed off the agenda with a note saying the proposal had been withdrawn.

Clark told the Four Corners Free Press in a phone interview that he would now seek to subdivide his land rather than get the PUD approved. “Everyone is super upset about the PUD,” he said.

Clark said he thought it unrealistic for people to live a mile from Cortez’s city lim­its but believe they were residing in a totally rural area. “Do you not think it’s going to grow?” he asked.

He said the rental homes weren’t intended to draw in people from outside the area.

“I have 15 rental units in the city and county,” he said. “Those people aren’t from somewhere else. Not one person has come from out of town in my properties. They’re kids getting their own homes, people mov­ing from other homes – they’re our local population.”

From September 2023.