The Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners will continue to study a controversial land use code proposal to reduce the minimum lot size from 3 acres to 1 acre after hearing from residents Tuesday at a public hearing.
Commissioner Keenan Ertel opposes the change, noting that smaller lots are available under the land use code subdivision procedures.
“We already have a method to get to smaller lots right now, so it’s a moot point. I think it makes sense to keep the 3-acre minimum and let developers meet the demand for smaller lots through the subdivision process,” he said.
Commissioners Jim Candelaria and Larry Don Suckla said additional discussion was needed for reducing the minimum lot size to 1 acre. The proposed change would not include the Dolores River Valley, which will remain at a 10-acre minimum.
Candelaria said planning was needed so residential development with smaller lots in the rest of the county is focused near towns where there is adequate infrastructure such as water, sewer, power, emergency services, schools and internet.
“We need to consider future growth, and that it be within a zone of influence that gives availability of services. That makes sense and is more cost effective,” Candelaria said.
Suckla said more availability of 1-acre lots could make property and homes more affordable for the working class in the county.
“I want our working class to be able to stay and live in this county. Maybe the 1-acre minimum is the solution,” he said. “This proposal has opened up a good discussion. The county is changing, and I don’t want the people who work here to be pushed out like what is happening in Durango, or Aspen or Telluride. I am open for ideas.”
Doug Roth, county geographic information system manager, said a recent analysis indicated there were many vacant residential lots throughout the county that are 3 acres or less.
In unincorporated Montezuma County, there were 1,004 such parcels. In Cortez, there were 820; in Mancos, 79; and in Dolores, 37.
But whether they were for sale or affordable for locals is another question. Many platted subdivisions do not have the infrastructure to service the homes, Roth said.
During the public hearing, many residents spoke against reducing the minimum lot size to 1 acre. A homebuilder expressed support for the change.
“To hear about the change to 1 acre made my heart drop,” said Larry Berger. “I did not move here for that, I love the buffer of my 3.5 acres, and I’m working class. Keep the population centered around towns.”
A real estate agent opposed changing the 3-acre minimum and said smaller lots are for sale in the county, but she has not seen a lot of demand for them.
Sheila Wheeler urged the commissioners to address water availability and conservation amid the drought before making decisions that could increase density and water demand.
“There has been widespread acceptance of the 3-acre minimum, I’d encourage you to let sleeping dogs lie,” said Bill Ivy.
Cindy Dvergsten said the community was not prepared for such a sweeping change. The potential for increased density and impacts on roads and water needs further study, she said.
Others said the 3-acre minimum supported the county’s rural character of the county, encourages small-scale agriculture, provides a safe amount of room for septic systems and allows for buffers and privacy for homeowners.
Developer Danny Wilkin supported the change to 1-acre minimum. For some, 3 acres was too large, he said, and can lead to property neglect because of maintenance costs.
“Larger lots push sprawl out further. Just because the minimum is changed does not mean you will be bombarded with 1-acre lots,” he said. “It will still be market demand. Going to 1 acre helps people by giving them more options.”
Supporters for the change have said smaller lots would help families carve off a less-than 3-acre parcel for their children and relatives. Ertel said the subdivision process would allow for that.
In a previous public hearing, the county agreed to keep the 10-acre minimum lot size in the Dolores Valley, after overwhelming opposition from the public to reduce it to 1 acre.
The next public land use code public hearing is Oct. 20 at 1:30 p.m.