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
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
“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.”
“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
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
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
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
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,
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