A property owner raised questions about Mancos’ land use code at the town’s planning and zoning meeting on Wednesday.
Bobbie Carll, a Durango resident who is trying to sell her former real estate office in Mancos, asked the board to consider amending the land use code for the commercial and highway business district, where her building is located. She said the building was built as a residence, and she has found a buyer who wants to use it that way, but he was denied a loan at the last minute because a section of the town’s land use code could create zoning problems if the building was damaged or destroyed. Carll’s request for a code amendment led to a heated discussion among the board members.
Along with Jeremy Christensen, the real estate agent who listed her property this year, Carll presented the board with a letter detailing the history of her building, located on 235 N. Main St. It was built in 1935 as a single-family residence, and it is still listed as a residence on the Montezuma County Assessor’s website, even though Carll said it has been a mixed-use property and home to several businesses since she bought it in 2005. The 200 block of Main Street has been a part of the town’s commercial district since the 1970s, and the land use code only allows new buildings in that area to be used for commercial or mixed-use purposes.
Interim Town Administrator Heather Alvarez said that’s a problem for anyone in the district whose home burns down and has to be rebuilt.
“In our commercial district, you are not allowed to have single family residential (properties),” Alvarez said. “All those older homes ... if something happens to those at any time since the zone changed ... there’s no mechanism to allow them to be rebuilt.”
Carll said she wasn’t aware of those rules until June, when she was about to sign over the property to a buyer. The prospective buyer, a new Fort Lewis College professor, was denied a loan because of the rule.
The sale has now been put on hold, she said. The would-be buyer and his family are renting the house, but she said they would rather buy it.
“I think my hands would be tied if I had to go back and try to sell it commercially,” Carll said. “After the big fire and everything, nobody wants a new business here that I know of.”
The buyer, Anthony Carton, read a prepared statement to the board asking for a change to the land use code.
“My wife and I were attracted to Mancos, as opposed to our other option, Bayfield, because there seems to be a centralized downtown, and it seems like a very walkable place,” he said. “This type of a change to the commercial zone could also reinforce those types of attractive items to people like myself.”
Section 16-21-10 of the land use code does allow single-family residences to be rebuilt in the highway business district near U.S. Highway 160. Alvarez suggested the problem could be resolved by changing that section of the code to include the commercial district.
Chairwoman Regina Roberts said she was concerned that changing the code would open the door for residential properties to move into strictly commercial districts. She questioned whether Carton had any plan to start a home-based business, which would make the building a mixed-use property again. Board member Perry Lewis, whose own home is in the commercial district, strongly disagreed with her concerns and said her questions were irrelevant.
“The issue is not how he’s going to use his house,” he said. “The issue is whether he can rebuild his house if it burns down.”
The discussion turned into a heated argument between Lewis and Roberts that continued to flare up occasionally throughout the rest of the meeting. Alexander Costen, who was serving on the board for the first time after his appointment on Aug. 9, said he supported changing the code.
“I wouldn’t buy anything that I couldn’t rebuild,” he said. “If it’s as simple as, ‘Can they rebuild their house?’ then I don’t see the issue with saying, ‘Yes, you can rebuild your house.’”
Roberts maintained that the change could cause problems over the long term, but ultimately the board agreed to let Alvarez bring the issue before the town council for further discussion. After the meeting, Alvarez said she planned to put it on the council’s Sept. 13 agenda. But she also said it would take multiple public hearings for the change to take effect.
“It’s a several-month process,” she said.