Easement marks first use of cluster zoning
GSPI News Editor
Eighty-four acres of ranchland will be forever spared from development near Rifle due to history-making action by Garfield County Commissioners this week.
A proposal approved by commissioners Monday marks the first use of a new cluster zoning provision designed to preserve more agricultural land in the county.
Under the proposal by Ranch Savers LLC, 105 acres on County Road 293 on Graham Mesa, east of Rifle and north of Interstate 70, will be split into six lots. However, five of the six will be confined to 20 percent of the property. The rest will be placed into a perpetual conservation easement managed by the Aspen Valley Land Trust.
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County senior planner Fred Jarman called the project “sort of a maiden voyage” for the county’s Rural Lands Development Option, or RLDO, which was created by commissioners in 2000.
“We’re pretty excited about it,” said Jarman.
So is the Aspen Valley Land Trust.
“We’re just really happy to see someone using that regulation,” said Shannon Meyer, associate director of the AVLT.
“We think it’s a great program,” said Michael Bennett, a Silt-area resident and partner in Ranch Savers LLC.
Other partners include his mother, Patsy Endner, and Silt rancher Wayne Pollard.
Pollard served on the initial citizens advisory group that helped develop the zoning option. The first draft of the proposal was written by the Western Colorado Agricultural Heritage Fund, for which Meyer served as executive director until its merger with the AVLT in October.
The measure was written with the goal of creating an incentive to keep agricultural land from being broken up into 35-acre lots.
State law allows landowners to create parcels of 35 acres or more without having to go through the county subdivision process. The RLDO provides that same subdivision exemption for proposals that concentrate development on a small portion of a property, while keeping the rest intact for agricultural use.
Easements should be made permanent
The county’s rules require developers using this option to preserve the remaining acreage as open space for a minimum of 40 years. However, Ranch Savers has agreed to place the 84 acres in a perpetual conservation easement.
“We commend them for choosing to do more than is required of them,” said Meyer.
She believes the failure of the regulations to require perpetual conservation easements may be the reason why it has taken so long for an RLDO proposal to be brought forward.
The problem is that no land trust in the state is willing to hold conservation easements that aren’t perpetual. Yet the RLDO rules require that a third party hold the easement, Meyer said.
She said she is encouraging the county to either change the rules so the easements must be perpetual, or offer to hold the easements itself.
In the meantime, however, she and county officials hope that approval of the Ranch Savers plan will stir up more interest in the cluster zoning option.
Profit and preservation
The option is shorter and cheaper than going through a subdivision review, allows for more lots to be created than through creation of 35-acre lots, and provides a tool for developers interested in rural land preservation.
Bennett said that’s the main goal for Ranch Savers.
“I’m not going to tell you that we’re not in for a profit, too,” he added.
Still, he said Ranch Savers will be selling the 84 acres for about half of what they could be sold for without the conservation easement.
Bennett’s hope is that the cluster zoning will allow Ranch Savers to do what the name says, while making some money at the same time.
Pollard said Ranch Savers is currently working on two similar projects, again in cooperation with the AVLT. He declined to identify the properties at this time.
Another ranch near Carbondale also may one day be protected by the cluster zoning provision.
County commissioners Monday approved a subdivision exemption for about 140 acres of ranchland owned by Rex and JoAnn Coffman on the north side of County Road 100 east of Carbondale.
Three of the lots will be only four acres in size each. Although the Coffmans didn’t subdivide the property using the RLDO provision, they have indicated that their long-term development plans for the property include making use of the cluster zoning.
Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516
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