What’s Next for Ewing Mesa-Grandview Connection?

What the county does next in the public process surrounding the much-debated Grandview connection is something I don’t know.

But I can tell you that a revealing letter sent from CDOT’s Region 5 Transportation Director Richard Reynolds to La Plata County Manager Shawn Nau on Jan. 11, 2010, gives us some insight. Referencing the letter of intent by and between La Plata County and Oakridge Energy, Reynolds said that CDOT has jurisdiction over any new connections directly to a highway as mandated by the State of Colorado Highway Access code (Code), which was developed as a result of Colorado Revised Statute 43-2-147(4).

“The Code has full authority to require improvements to any parcels or subdivisions taking access to the highway system. In fact,” Reynolds said, “the State Highway Access Law requires that access comply with the State Highway Access Code prior to any subdivision of property.”

“Also,” Reynolds said, “CDOT has no funding available to roadways off state corridors.”

Of further interest in the letter was Reynolds’ contention that CDOT would require an access permit and full Traffic Impact Study (TIS) to be submitted by the applicant to CDOT for approval prior to platting/development of any connections to a state or federal highway.

With the possibility of funding assistance for the road being low, and the additional costs of a traffic study needed, the financial future of the proposed Grandview connection remains uncertain.

Outside of CDOT’s involvement in the proposed Grandview connection, officials with the county have discussed the possibility of drafting an official contract between La Plata County and Oakridge Energy, which the public could later comment on, whereupon changes to it might be made.

Before a road access permit would be granted by CDOT, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would have to be done for the road, since it would cross over BLM land, as drafted.

The next anticipated move for the county will be to discuss with and persuade the City to jump on board with the proposal. Soon after, the County is expected to draft a contractual agreement with Oakridge Energy for the easement. Once a contractual agreement is reached, the County will likely seek out grants for funding the road or even ask the voters of La Plata County to approve a mill levy property tax increase as a funding mechanism.

City Planners on Letter of Intent between Oakridge Energy and La Plata County

The following is an excerpt from a letter drafted by the City of Durango Planning Staff, which includes Greg Hoch and Vicki Vandergrift, from December of 2009. This document, entitled “Staff Asking Points-Ewing Mesa Letter of Intent,” was written as a warning before the letter of intent by and between La Plata County and Oakridge Energy was approved by the La Plata Board of County Commissioners.

As a piece of background preluding this excerpt, the Ewing Mesa letter of intent outlines a set of guidelines in which a discussion can take place regarding the proposed road connecting Grandview and Ewing Mesa (Grandview connection).  Oakridge Energy owns 54 35-acre parcels on Ewing Mesa and around Telegraph Pass, which includes the top of Telegraph Trail, Anasazi Trail, Crites Connection Trail, and the Old Car Loop Trail. [Ewing Mesa Map with trails] Excerpts from the Staff Asking Points include the remaining paragraphs:

There may be positive aspects of the agreement that make it desirable for La Plata County and Oakridge Energy to enter into the agreement, however there are questions that should be answered before the agreement is supported by the City of Durango.

The “General Agreement by County” section also says that Oakridge would have direct and convenient access (subject to County code safety standards) to any county roads dedicated and developed on the Oakridge property. This implies that the County or the City would not be able to preclude development or access which did not fit with the adopted plan. The roads which will be major arterials in the future are likely to be burdened with wide curb cuts, frequent changes in width, and accesses that may be safe for a county road carrying 100 cars a day, but which would not be suitable for a major roadway in the future. Just as Camino Del Rio is burdened by backing movements into the street, frequent curb cuts and steep entries onto the street, which may have met the safety requirements of a much less traveled roadway, the obligation of the County or City to provide any proposed access to a county road that will become a major thoroughfare is a short-sighted concession to a potential developer.

The Dedication Process; Construction of Improvements; Surety section says that the County constructs improvements and maintains the new county road until such time as maintenance responsibilities are assumed by another government entity. The improvements proposed in phase 1 of the letter of intent are estimated in the 2030 TRIP to cost $30,376,000 not including the connection to CR234. The phase 2 improvements are estimated to cost $21,515,000. Phase 3 is estimated to cost $6,124,000. It is difficult to see how these roads will be constructed unless the County imposes steep taxes on existing county residents. Impact fees even if imposed by the County will not be sufficient to pay for the improvements in the time frame described in the agreement, based on the recent population increase in the County. If the County expects to build lower cost roads in place of those proposed in the 2030 TRIP, it is unclear who will pay for the improvements necessary to accommodate the traffic that is projected in the traffic model. Once the roads are built development will occur and the situation will be similar to Animas View Drive, or CR233 where the cost to rebuild the road to a reasonable standard will be greater than if the road had never been built in the first place.

The Potential Relocation of Grandview Connector and Improvements section says that the County shall not allow the relocation of the right-of-way on the Oakridge property without the written consent of Oakridge. This statement precludes the possibility for condemnation of lands for roadway construction purposes in the future. The County should not contractually eliminate the possibility that at some time in the future there may be a need to secure a better, safer or more convenient route through the property presently owned  by Oakridge. By the time that decision is made the property will no longer be owned by Oakridge and the successors in right will be able to call on the language in the agreement to block any condemnation of their property.

The Deadlines for Dedication Process and Construction section says that the County’s ability to carry out its obligations depends on the participation of various third parties, including the City of Durango. A scenario which seems possible is that right-of-way is dedicated, and some construction of roadway occurs to allow large lot development on the Ewing Mesa rim. No other development is proposed and the City is unwilling to fund $50,000,000 worth of road improvements in the time frame described in the letter. The right-of-way is returned to the owners in succession and the potential for development goes away. The result is that large lot owners fail to pay their fair share for services delivered, and the idea of smart growth fades.

It should be the policy of the City to encourage compact development in areas near the existing City limits. Services can be more efficiently provided and the benefits to the community in the long term are significant. An agreement that allows development as it has occurred throughout La Plata County over the last 30 years is not in the best interest of the Durango community or the La Plata County residents living outside of the Durango City limits. A more appropriate approach would be for the City and the County to agree to build infrastructure necessary for the development of a community on Ewing Mesa, but to tie the infrastructure improvements to a commitment to provide development in accordance with an adopted plan that has been vetted in a public process, and which fairly assesses cost of those improvements among the development that has caused the need for those improvements.

There are likely other elements of the proposed agreement that require further scrutiny, however the time frame of La Plata County for consideration of the agreement precludes a thorough, thoughtful and open consideration of the possible outcomes of such an agreement.

High Lama Lane

The following is a list a people living on High Lama Lane who could be affected by the proposed Grandview connection resulting from a road improvement or possible relocation through annexation or condemnation proceedings:

High Lama Lane in the background

Paul and Laurie Gibson, James Haggerty, Wally White, Garth Ade, Juris Berzins, Bruce and Tracy Bigelow, Gilbert Geauthreaux, Euroco Investments, LLC

Please educate yourselves and read up on the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Properties Acquisition Policies Act (Uniform Act). See link under road proposals below.    Ewing Mesa Map with trails

Letter of Intent Violates Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA)

The following is a letter from Vicki Vandergrift, Senior Planner for Durango, to Ron LeBlanc, City Manager, regarding the letter of intent by and between La Plata County and Oakridge Energy. I’ve rewritten it word for word, with key points I’ve highlighted in bold and red, but keep in mind that this was written before the letter of intent was approved by the County Commissioners in late January, 2010.

TO: Ron LeBlanc, City Manager

FROM: Vicki Vandergrift, AICP, Senior Planner

THROUGH: Tim McHarg, AICP, Acting Director of Planning and Community Development

CC: David Smith, City Attorney; Greg Hoch, Director of Planning and Community Development; Jack Rogers, Director of Public Works; Gregg Boysen, City Engineer; Kevin Hall, POST Development Manager

DATE: December 18, 2009

RE: Ewing Mesa Propose Road Easements

I. Summary of Issues

A. Intergovernmental Agreement Regarding Joint Land Use Planning – All of Ewing Mesa is either Tier 1 or Tier 2 property. As such, according to the Intergovernmental Agreement Regarding Joint Land Use Planning states that Tier 2 properties shall develop or redevelop in accordance with applicable City Development Standards and City Land Uses and applicable land use plans, inclusive of the policies set forth within such plans.

  1. Road Alignments
    a. The road alignments of the proposed Phase 1 and Phase 2 roads shown do not agree with the City of Durango’s adopted Official Street Classification Map, which was adopted as a portion of the City’s Comprehensive Plan in March of 2007. The discrepancies in the alignments are shown on the attached map.

b. The Letter of Intent by and between La Plata County and Oakridge Energy states in 4.b. “Improvements related to the Grandview                  Connection shall include construction of the county road along the alignment shown on the Ewing Mesa Area Plan…”. The road alignment is not    in conformance with the Ewing Mesa Area Plan.

c. The road alignments shown on the Comprehensive Plan are conceptual; however, new alignments should be reviewed and approved by the City of Durango.

d. The proposed road alignments bisect existing 35 acre parcels, which will result in de facto subdivisions of the existing parcels. The existing parcels should be vacated prior to platting of new roads.

  • Protect skyline views by requiring setbacks from the rim of the mesa, but allow greater heights near the slopes rising above the mesa; and
  • Achieve an integrated mix of residential and non-residential development that is consistent with New Urbanist development principles.

The existing 35-acre parcels are not in conformance with the City of Durango’s Comprehensive Plan nor the Ewing Mesa Area Plan. The new road alignments bisect a number of the platted lots. Nothing should be done to facilitate the sale or marketability of the 35-acre lots. Roads should not be platted to bisect existing lots which in essence creates additional non-conforming lots in direct conflict with the IGA.

II. Conclusion and Recommendation

While the dedication of roads through Ewing Mesa can be viewed as a positive step in making important road connections in support of the City and County’s shared vision of a future road network, the proposed Letter of Intent raises significant concerns. The proposed Letter of Intent is not in conformance with the Intergovernmental Agreement Regarding Joint Land Use Planning which states that all development in Tier 2 areas shall be in accordance with City standards, plans and policies.

The City should encourage the County to amend the agreement so that the proposal is in conformance with the Intergovernmental Agreement.

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