County commissioners review open space options for developers

LUR amendment up for consideration November 3
Gunnison County is still working on an amendment to its Land Use Resolution (LUR) that will give developers a way to get more residential lots out of a subdivision and still meet the county’s open space requirements.



The details of the amendment, known as Residential Density Transfer (RDT), fell short of approval at a special meeting of the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, September 22. The amendment will get another look and be considered for adoption on November 3.
Under the current LUR, 30 percent of the area inside residential developments needs to be dedicated open space, but no requirements are placed on the space other than it remain free of development.
Sometimes that open space is used for recreation or to enhance the views from or of the subdivision.
But in other cases, the county’s geographic information services manager, Mike Pelletier, sees that open space going without maintenance, serving as ground zero for the spread of noxious weeds. The least desirable lots for development are often reserved for open space.
So to turn the weed lots in subdivisions into usable open space, Pelletier worked with county planners for more than a year before proposing an RDT amendment to the LUR that “operates by offering developers an option to reduce their open space from 30 percent to 15 percent, which will allow them to have more lots and in return they will pay the RDT fee… that will be put in a segregated county fund that will be used for land conservation projects.”
The RDT fee developers would have to pay, if they take the option, would amount to 10 percent of the increase in the land value that resulted in the subdivision approval. If a 40-acre parcel was purchased for $100,000 by the developer and is worth $1 million as a subdivision of five or more lots, the RDT fund would get $90,000 under the program.
The money generated through the program will give the county leveraging power with funding organizations like Great Outdoors Colorado or the Gunnison Ranchland Legacy, which often match funds raised by the county with grant money to purchase open space.
Pelletier said that if the program had been available to the developers of the Mountain Meadows Subdivision and they had chosen to take it, the County could have generated $80,000.
The Mountain Meadows developers would have given up one acre of open space within their subdivision and in return provided enough money in the fund to preserve 300 acres of open space in the Stuben Creek area.
By including the option in the LUR, the county is also hoping to cluster development where county planners have already approved development and consolidate open space “in order to conserve agricultural land and other valuable lands…,” according to the draft amendment.
Commissioner Hap Channell wondered why the program wouldn’t do more to influence where the planning commission approves density, which is something the commissioners have been looking for.
Pelletier said it wasn’t the intent of the RDT amendment to influence planning, but that development would be restricted in valuable areas through the process.
“This plan doesn’t dictate density. It would be other [programs],” he said. “But this program would help with that by preserving a certain amount of land that would not be developable and is not adjacent to municipalities. By putting an easement on a property we’re taking that away as an option for development.”
There was some concern from the commissioners about an option to pay the RDT fee up front or pay as the lots are sold. Paying up front would give developers a 10 percent discount as an incentive to participate, but it would also mean a substantial up front investment from the developers.
The alternative would be to pay the county as the lots in the subdivision are sold, which could be effected by changes in land value and drag the payment to the fund out over an extended period.
“I think it is a good proposal but its potential comes apart if we allow developers to pay as the lots are sold. My concern is that developers will utilize this [program] and they get reduced open space and the county doesn’t see the benefit of it for years,” commissioner Jim Starr said.
He also said, “We need to look at requiring park and recreational amenities in subdivisions,” as a way to avoid cultivating weed lots and reduce the strain subdivisions place on municipal amenities. But, he said that would be left for another amendment to the LUR.
The commissioners asked Pelletier to look at the payment structure of the program and find a balance between an incentive that would encourage participation in the program and providing a timely benefit to the community. The commissioners will reconsider the amendment at a regular meeting November 3.

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