Former planning commissioner critical of cohousing approval

By Tamie Meck


Paonia resident Paul Douglas believes that the proposed Silver Leaf Cohousing project should go back to the planning commission.

Douglas spoke during the "visitors" portion of the Jan. 26 town board meeting after sitting in on a special joint meeting between the town board and staff and planning commission members regarding the proposal. Douglas also spoke at the Jan. 14 special review hearing and developer presentation on the proposal. He said he believes the commission's conditional recommendation for approval is failing to "use the tools available to protect the public interest."

Douglas, a former planning commission member, said he made a career in development and has always been concerned that it doesn't have a negative impact on the citizens or the finances of the town. This development, said Douglas, will be a financial burden to the town, and he can't agree with town manager Jane Berry's "interpretation of process in order to avoid the town's development regulations."

Berry noted during the joint meeting that the project was submitted under special review due to it not meeting the definition of a Planned Unit Development or subdivision. The proposed 13 units and the land directly beneath them will be individually owned and the remaining land will be dedicated common property.

He questioned if under the process, building permits will be required, and asked why installation of curbs and gutters and sidewalks are not required by the developer. He also said the town will be spending the developer's tap fees to install a sewer line, for which he said the developer is responsible under current regulations.

"It concerns me that this process is moving along ... when I think that it should go back to the planning commission," said Douglas, calling it a "disservice to the community and ... to the proponent, the developer, that this not happen now rather than later."

Douglas went on to say that if the town is "happy with this process, then you're not concerned with the finances of this town and our infrastructure problems. It just steamrolls along and it gets done."

In 30 years of the town addressing development, this is the first time one hasn't required curb and gutter and sidewalks in the design standards, said Douglas. "In my mind, it's not ready for approval."

Douglas submitted written comments suggesting that the proposal doesn't meet several requirements of the town's land development regulations, including dedication of land for public use, "and should not have received conditional approval" by the commission.

Douglas said the town at one time was able to replace infrastructure as needed. "For various reasons we're no longer able to do that," he said.

"In this proposal, are we required to demand that developers put in curbs and gutters?" asked trustee Ross King.

"Yes, that's my point," replied Douglas.

This is the first time the town has received an application for a cohousing development. Mayor pro tem Charles Stewart noted that the property has already been subdivided and there's little the town can do compared to a new subdivision application.

Douglas and Berry were scheduled to meet on the matter last week.