Dolores Valley plan remains in limbo

P&Z board survey shows majority support

The Dolores River Valley Plan was passed in 2003 by Montezuma County to limit development along the river corridor, thereby protecting water quality long term.

Now the land-use plan is up against it's first political test.

The current board of county commission has been skeptical of the land regulations and its market-based zoning system of transferable development rights (TDRs).

Last year, the commission directed the planning and zoning department to come up with suggested changes to the plan, and determine if it was necessary. P&Z has recommended the system stay in place.

During a presentation Monday to the commission, the planning department again recommended the plan remain to prevent pollution of a water source depended on by 27,000 residents in Montezuma and Dolores counties and on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation.

A 100-foot setback for structures, and a cap of 620 additional homes prevents "irreversible degradation" of the river, said planning director Dennis Atwater.

"(The plan) accomplishes its purpose."

He said claims that the TDR system hurts property values don't bear out, and that values in the valley were holding steady according to the assessors office.

The plan tries to strike a balance between development and protection of a critical watershed.

New development in the Montezuma County portion of the Dolores River Valley is limited to one home per 10 acres, which works out to a total of approximately 620 new homes.

But the system of Transferable Development Rights allows a property owner to buy TDRs from another property owner to build more than one home on a 10-acre lot.

The system of shuffling building rights encourages clustered development, with the strategy being there are a finite number within the river valley. It also allows development rights to be potentially cashed in and keep land in agricultural production.

Critics point out that so far no TDRs has been bought or sold, so the market price is unknown. Explaining the plan to prospective buyers is also a challenge for real-estate agents.

The planning board reported that if the plan is scrapped, land-use in the Dolores Valley would revert back to the three-acre minimum for building a home in the county. Officials say that would potentially increase the total build-out to 2,000 new homes, and associated septic systems, in a 31-mile stretch of river.

Atwater also responded to criticism that the 100-foot buffer requirement is unheard of, pointing out it is the standard in six other Colorado counties with river corridors.

The P&Z board offered proposed revisions to the plan.

One option is to have the county plat each 10-acre lot and issue TDR certificates to each landowner in the valley. The measure would save landowners the $750 cost and give them a physical document of their TDR.

Another option would be to reduce the minimum lot size to something under 10 acres but above 5 acres.

But the limited development measures of the plan and its 100-foot buffer restrictions are proving to be a tough sell to the commission.

"I want to know what triggered this plan," said commissioner Keenan Ertel. "Was the water quality deteriorating? I want to see the science."

Atwater responded it was a proactive measure to protect the valley long term.

"If we allow development without regulations, there is a potential for negative effect for water quality," he said.

County commissioner Steve Chappell remarked that Montezuma and Dolores counties need to work together on preserving water quality in the Dolores River. Abandoned mines near Rico threaten water quality, and are currently under going improvements by the EPA. Dolores County also requires engineered septic systems along their portion of the river, said Mellissa Mathews, of the Montezuma County health department.

Atwater said at a recent meeting the planning board unanimously agreed that the plan should not be scrapped. But a later survey showed planning board members Michael Gaddy and Mike Rosso "strongly support" eliminating the DRVP.

The survey concluded that 63 percent of the planning board felt the plan should not be changed.

A public hearing on the future of the Dolores River Valley Plan will occur in 30 days and allow for public comment.