City levels hard eye at ridgeline homes
Draft of new rules expected by spring

Under a plan being developed by the Durango City Council and the Planning Department, ridgeline development such as this will be regulated in an effort to preserve the area’s natural beauty./Photo by Dustin Bradford.

The motivation for the current dark sky movement is now spilling over into a separate effort to curb ridgeline development. Citing a need to maintain aesthetics, city planners and council members are currently drafting a new set of rules for what can be built in Durango’s most visible places. La Plata County officials are keeping an eye on the process with a mind toward some ridgeline regulations of their own.

Durango Mayor Pro-Tem Virginia Castro said that like the dark sky push, ridgeline-development regulations would be aimed at maintaining the city’s intrinsic beauty in the face of strong growth pressures.

“A lot of the motivation is to maintain the aesthetic beauty of Durango,” she said. “Our community is growing, and one of the things we can do is eliminate the things that detract from quality of life. The main goal would be to have development be harmonious with its surroundings.”

As an example of what such regulations would work to avoid, Castro related the case of a home that everyone knows. “We’ve got things like a pink house with bronze roofing that you can basically see from everywhere in the valley.”

Statewide, ridgeline development has become a broad term not simply for homes on ridges but for excessively visible development. City planners intend to address both ridgeline and hillside development with regulations. Determining what qualifies as ridgeline or hillside development will rank among their biggest challenges.

“It’s tough here because we have a lot of plateaus and mesas,” said Millissa Berry of the city Planning Department. “It’s tough because it can be subjective. What may seem like a ridgeline from one side may be invisible from another.”

Castro concurred.

“The challenge is that something from one side of Durango is a ridgeline,” she said. “From the other, it isn’t.”

Another challenge will be respecting the view corridor while allowing people to exercise their right to develop their property, according to Castro. “The main objective would be that we allow private property development but provide guidelines so it’s still aesthetically pleasing to the surrounding area,” she said.

One of Durango’s most frequently referenced hillside developments looks over the town. City regulations would allow development of such parcels but seek harmony with natural surroundings.
/Photo by Dustin Bradford.

Berry also noted that curbing visible development could have unintended consequences.

She said that eliminating development on ridges and hillsides could increase visual beauty partly at the expense of affordability.

“We don’t have that many places left to grow anymore,” she said. “You’ve got to expect some growth on the hillsides.”

La Plata County is currently keeping an eye on the city’s efforts to develop ridgeline regulations. As the county enters into its effort to revise its land-use regulations, ridgeline development will be an issue at the forefront.

“One of the major items in our revision is going to be ridgeline development,” said Joe Crain, director of county planning.

Crain said the county has firsthand knowledge of how touchy ridgeline regulation can be.

“We had a lawsuit,” he said. “We turned down a project that was ridgelining, and he sued and won.”

Two years ago, Roy Newman proposed a development on County Road 203 that included homes in the valley as well as on the adjacent hillside/ridgeline. Crain noted that county regulations prohibit development on any grade steeper than 30 percent. On the basis that several of Newman’s proposed roads were excessively steep, the Board of County Commissioners rejected his application. Newman filed a lawsuit, and the judge sided with him, noting that the county’s means of defining the slope was flawed. Addressing how to measure slopes and how to define ridgeline will be crucial to county revisions, according to Crain.

He said an additional pitfall for county planners will be addressing ridgeline development on already approved but yet-to-be developed pieces of land.

“If you’ve got approved lots or an approved parcel, it’s very difficult to regulate if they’re not going through the subdivision process,” he said.

The county is watching while the city takes the lead. “We’re keeping an eye on what the city’s doing,” Crain said. “Some things require that you have a unified approach between city and county, and this could be one of them.”

As for what the city’s doing, the work to date has been largely technical, according to Berry. Critical ridgelines and hillsides surrounding Durango have been mapped. However Berry added that right now planners have quite a bit on their plates, including a dark skies ordinance and the Grandview annexation, among others.

Nevertheless, Castro said that addressing ridgeline development is going to have to be a priority.

“Since I was elected, we as a council have been pushing for ridgeline standards,” she said. “Here we are 18 months later, and we’re ready to see something happen.”

The Planning Department expects to have a draft ordinance prepared by spring.






News Index Second Index Opinion Index Classifieds Index Contact Index