San Miguel County Planner
In recent weeks there have been a number of commentaries, letters to the editor and public statements about the zoning and type of land use and density that could or could not occur on the Valley Floor under San Miguel County's land use authority and jurisdiction. The purpose of this commentary is to provide information about the one per 35 acre rule, the current Planned Unit Development Reserve, or PUDR, zoning on the Valley Floor, the County PUD process and some thoughts, from my perspective as the County planner, about potential development scenarios that could be considered or could occur on the Valley Floor if the property is not annexed into the Town of Telluride or if only the south side of the Valley Floor is acquired by the Town through condemnation. There are potentially a wide range of development scenarios that could occur on the Valley Floor under the County's jurisdiction. Let me explain.
First, I have read and heard a number of folks state that the Valley Floor is zoned for one per 35-acre development. This is not true nor is it an accurate statement. The Valley Floor, comprising approximately 800 acres, which is owned by San Miguel Valley Corporation and within the Telluride Regional Master Plan Area, is zoned PUDR. This PUDR zoning applies to not only the 560 acres south of the highway, which is subject to the condemnation action, but also applies to the 121 acres on the north side of the highway, the 21 acres at Society Turn and the 91 acres on Deep Creek Mesa, off of the Airport Road.
The 35-acre rule is not zoning, but refers to the specific provision in the State Subdivision Act that excludes the division of land into 35-acre or larger parcels from the definition of subdivision. This exclusion means that a landowner can elect to divide their property into 35-acre parcels without going through any sort of County subdivision review or approval process. This 35-acre rule does not, however, override zoning. It should also be understood that the division of property into 35-acre or larger parcels does not create a new zoning or change the zoning of a property from its existing zoning to the Forestry, Agriculture and Open (F) Zone District. Stated another way, a property owner may choose to divide their property into 35-acre parcels, but where the property is zoned to allow a higher density through a PUD process, such as the PUDR Zone District, the County cannot simply say that a one-per-35-acre development is the maximum development or the only development scenario that may occur on the Valley Floor.
Based on the acreage, approximately 560 acres on the south side of the highway, and approximately 800 acres as the total acreage for SMVC's holdings that are included in the annexation proposal, it would be possible to create 15 35-acre parcels on the "south parcel" or a total of 22 35-acre parcels on the overall Valley Floor property.
In reviewing other 35-acre land divisions in the region, such as West Meadows, Sunnyside and Gray Head, I believe that someone could creatively configure these 35-acre parcels so there would be a useable building site on each of the parcels. SMVC has in fact recorded a plat dividing the Valley Floor into 35-acre parcels. It should be noted, however, that SMVC or a subsequent owner could revise this plat and reconfigure these 35-acre parcels in the future if they choose to do so.
If and when property is developed under the one-per-35 acre rule rather than proposing higher densities and going through the County PUD process, there is substantially no public review of the project, there is not a requirement or opportunity to obtain potential public benefits such as public open space, employee housing or school sites and park sites, recreation trails and so on. Rather, the County reviews development permits and building permits when an owner or purchaser applies to build a house on his or her property for compliance with limited aspects of the County Land Use Code.
What is PUDR zoning? It is a unique and fairly complex zoning designation but it is in fact a specific County Zone District included in the adopted County Land Use Code. The Valley Floor was zoned PUDR in 1982. The PUDR zoning for the Valley Floor includes and refers to a PUD Reserve Map that shows the boundaries of the reserve together with sub-districts that identify approximate acreages, designated uses and maximum unit counts for the property. The PUD Reserve Map for the Valley Floor depicts a maximum of 800 units of lodging, 150 multi-family units, 30 single-family units and five acres of light industrial uses at Society Turn.
There are three (3) relatively large properties in the Telluride Region that were zoned as PUD Reserve in the early 1980s, Aldasoro, Valley Floor and West Meadows. These properties received the PUD Reserve zoning at that time partially in recognition of prior zoning, but primarily because it would potentially be possible to cluster development in identified pods on these properties and preserve substantial environmentally and visually sensitive areas as open space. The purpose statement for this Zone District states that the PUDR is intended to function as a holding zone, pending rezoning to an ultimate classification for development purposes through the PUD process. This PUD Reserve status for contiguous parcels provides a transition between designation under the Master Plan and final zoning. An applicant desiring to develop a PUD Reserve must obtain PUD approval for the entire parcel. However, portions of the Reserve may be given different designations as necessary to implement the Telluride Regional Master Plan.
How does the County PUD process work? Some County Zone Districts provide for additional uses and higher densities through the PUD process and others do not.
For example, the F Zone District, which is the zoning on the Mesas, in the San Miguel River Canyon, and most of land outside of the Telluride Region does not include provisions for higher densities through the PUD process. Conversely, the PUD Reserve, High Density, Medium Density, Low Density and Affordable Housing Zone Districts, which apply to the Telluride Region, include specific PUD procedures for allowing various types of development and densities in accordance with the Telluride Regional Master Plan.
A landowner must go through the PUD process and adhere to the PUD standards whenever they are proposing to subdivide and develop land at a higher density than allowed by right in the Zone District. This is not to say or imply that the property owner or applicant automatically gets anything and everything they may ask for as part of the PUD process. Rather a PUD application is considered and reviewed for compliance with the County Master Plan, in this case the Telluride Regional Master Plan, adopted Land Use Policies and the purpose statement and standards of the applicable Zone District in which the property is located.
At such time as the property owner is ready to proceed with any development within the PUD Reserve, other than use allowed by right, the developer shall apply for PUD approval for the entire parcel. Sub-districts may receive different final zoning designations as necessary to implement the Telluride Regional Area Master Plan.
What does the County's Telluride Regional Master Plan say about the Valley Floor?
The Future Land Use Element of the Valley Floor states that portions of the Valley Floor may be suitable for high-density development pods or sub-communities. These High Density development clusters are depicted on the Future Land Use Plan for the Telluride Region. The Master Plan includes a Density Summary for the three PUD Reserves that refers to a maximum Density for the Valley Floor of 1770 people. This maximum density reflects the uses and maximum unit counts that were depicted on the adopted PUD Reserve Map for the Valley Floor. In order to achieve the maximum densities that are provided for in the PUD Reserve, the site development plan must include affordable housing, an alternative transportation system (a gondola and light rail), and a full complement of public recreational amenities and facilities. If any one or all of the above criteria are not met to the maximum extent possible on site, the subject property will only be eligible for the alternative density, which is one (1) single-family dwelling unit per six to eight gross acres. As an example, the Aldasoro PUD Reserve went through the PUD process and developed its property, which is now subdivided into 166 lots as Aldasoro Ranch, at the alternative density of one (1) single-family dwelling unit per six to eight acres.
A PUD is not automatically entitled to the maximum density allowed in the Zone District in which the land is located. Density for the project would be established based on an analysis of environmental factors affecting the land, availability and adequacy of transportation, compatibility with surrounding land uses, consideration of the adopted Master Plan for the Telluride Region, and consistency with adopted Land Use Policies.
As a part of the PUD and subdivision review process, the County would also consider impact mitigation for affordable housing and school land and public park dedication requirements. At present the County Land Use Code (LUC) requires affordable housing impact mitigation of 15 percent for all new residential subdivisions, i.e., one of every seven lots in each new subdivision shall be deed-restricted. Depending on the size and density of the project, a developer would be required to either dedicate land or provide a cash payment in lieu of land for a school site and public park.
Although, an applicant is not automatically entitled to the maximum density, it would be difficult to deny an application if the PUD proposal and site development plan were found to comply with the Telluride Regional Master Plan, meet the standards of the County PUD procedures and include mitigation measures as required by the Land Use Code.
It is extremely difficult if not impossible to predict the outcome of potential land use applications unless or until a specific proposal and application is submitted and goes through the applicable public review process. However, I think it is fairly clear, based on the Master Plan for the Telluride Region, the PUD Reserve zoning and the County PUD process that is available to the landowner, that there is a wide range of development possibilities or scenarios that could potentially occur on the Valley Floor if all or part of this 800 acres were to remain under the County's land use authority and jurisdiction.
In closing, I believe each of the voters in the Town of Telluride will need to decide for themselves what they think about giving the Mayor and Town Council the go-ahead to work out an annexation agreement and site-specific development plan for the entire Valley Floor based on the essential elements that have been presented in the Settlement Agreement; however as the County Planner, I would discourage voters from relying on or assuming that the County Land Use process will assure or result in that ever alluring better deal.