An Arkansas family received a painful lesson on Delta County development regs last week when they petitioned the Town of Hotchkiss to de-annex their property, allowing them to build three homes without having to abide by the town's subdivision specifications. Trustees replied emphatically "no can do."
The property owners are Charlene and Timothy Thoman, who purchased the 26-acre parcel for $154,500 in March of this year, according to county property records. Charlene and Timothy intended to relocate here and build three homes on the property, one for them and one each for their two daughters and their families, explained Dave Mitchell, a realtor with Western Colorado Realty, who brokered the Thoman's deal, and who was part of the de-annexation request at last week's town council meeting.
The property is located within town boundaries, and town regulations require that the construction of three homes on the single piece of property fall under the town's subdivision regulations. That would mean the Thomans would have had to build a paved road and sidewalks, connect to the town's sewer main and install gutters, among other specifications. The regulations, Mitchell said, are very burdensome and very expensive. When the Thomans and Mitchell researched town regulations regarding de-annexation, they read the regulation that states, in part, that the property owner must make the deannexation request. "They interpreted that as they had to purchase the property," Mitchell explained to the council. "They believed the only way to get it [de-annexed] was to own the property. Rather than make the sale contingent on de-annexation, they went ahead and made the purchase."
The property in question is adjacent to the Clara Vista subdivision. The acreage is bordered on three sides by county property and has hay fields and other agricultural operations. The Thoman property surrounds a portion of town property, on which sits the town's water tower and a cell tower. There are also about 22 easements that run through the property.
John Qualls, one of Mrs. Thoman's sons-in-law, spoke on behalf of the de-annexation request. He explained the family did not want to have to build a 60-foot wide paved road through the property to give access to the north part, where the homes will be built. Indicating to aerial and topographical maps he brought, he explained that the only room in which to build a 60-foot road would entail building over the town's water lines. "There is not a 60-foot portion here that doesn't cross water lines, so it'd have to be built over the lines for quite some distance," Qualls said. "If anything happened to the water line, the town would then absorb the cost of digging and replacing the road. We're not wanting to do something like that. We just simply want a driveway." He also added that there is a 10-acre buffer zone between the proposed site of the building and the town property.
Mitchell asked trustees to suggest a better use for the property than homes. "The use of this property isn't likely unless you plan to put industrial or commercial development on it," he said, maintaining that the property is undevelopable except in this unique situation. Citing the town's own language in disconnect regulations, Mitchell quoted, " 'if the proposed development is substantially in accordance with the town's master plan, or if the request is a unique request, unlikely to be duplicated, and if disconnection will have no adversarial long term effects on the town,' it should be allowed. Nobody else is going to ask for a disconnect for a property like this one. We don't feel like it's an unusual request."
During a public hearing portion of the request, no citizens spoke in favor of allowing the development. Esther Koontz, who lives in the Clara Vista area, spoke against the development (Esther is married to Mayor Wendell Koontz; the mayor did file with the Colorado Secretary of State's office a potential conflict of interest statement). Esther cited concerns that the development plans seem to shift often. At first they spoke about three homes, then one home, and then during the meeting, two homes (Mitchell clarified that; the original intent was to build three homes, but the plan changed to build two homes, as one of the Thomans daughters bought their own piece of property in Hotchkiss). A neighboring couple, unable to attend the meeting, sent a letter of opposition as well, citing the effects the development would have on the entire neighborhood.
Town staff also expressed concerns about de-annexating the property. Town attorney Bo Nerlin explained that the town would likely run into issues with legal boundaries. By approving a disconnect, the town would lose its contiguity, effectively leaving a doughnut hole of town property surrounded by privately-owned, county property, Nerlin told trustees. He also added that the town would lose the main access to the property and could only access it via one of the easements, effectively making an island of the town property. Public works director Mike Owens also spoke against de-annexation, and said the reason the town adopted the regs in the first place was to get away from allowing multiple variances and to streamline new development.
Trustees, too, shared many concerns about disconnecting the property. Trustees John Marta and Jim Roberts both expressed concern that by disconnecting, the town would have no say about future development on that parcel. "If you buy in town, you ought to follow the regulations," Marta said. "What's going to stop them from selling the property and someone coming in and building more homes once it's in the county?" he asked.
Trustee Tom Wills explained that the property sits within the number one growth area of the town, and de-annexing it would hinder future growth of the town. Additionally, if a disconnect happened, it would be difficult for the town to enforce its easements; since the land would then be in the county, the town would have to go through the county administration to manage and access its easements. "This property does have a lot of value to the town," Wills said to Mitchell. That said, Wills was in favor of keeping the property under the jurisdiction of the town, but working with the property owners to allow them to build the two homes.
Mayor Koontz suggested the Thomans come back to next month's meeting with plans more firmly developed that would answer some of the town's concerns. Wills disagreed with that course of action. He also sits on the town's planning commission, and he relayed to trustees that the planning commission, at its meeting last month, unanimously denied approval of the de-annexation request, for all the same reasons discussed during the trustees meeting. "It all comes down to should this remain inside the town or not... [this] should be a foregone conclusion given the evidence and the arguments for remaining in town."
That argument solidified the rest of the trustees' opinions. The request for disconnection was unanimously denied by the board.
The last de-annexation request in the Town of Hotchkiss came in 1982; that one was approved.