City and county works to concentrate density
| A construction worker at Parkside
Terrace pauses from his work during a sunny Monday afternoon.
The townhomes are just one of the many smaller developments
going up in La Plata County and the city of Durango. Last
year, 435 permits were issued for residential
dwellings in the county./Photo by Todd Newcomer.
Over the past year, all eyes have been directed toward large-scale
developments like the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s plan for
Grandview. And many concerns have been leveled at the impacts
that the project, including its 2,300 new homes, will have on
the future of Durango. However, at the same time, smaller developments
are continuing to spread locally, and both City of Durango and
La Plata County staffs are working to concentrate the density
near existing development and retain the flavor of the county’s
Each year, plans for hundreds of new homes are approved at the
county and city level. But, at the same time, plans for thousands
more units fall apart for numerous reasons, such as lack of water,
personal issues or just plain bad planning. Last year, 315 units
were approved for development in the county, and permits were
pulled to begin building on 1,122 previously approved structures,
including homes, commercial units and outbuildings. Of those building
permits, about 435 were residential units. By comparison, the
county approved just 63 units in 2002, and permits were pulled
for 1,190 total structures, 540 of which were residential units.
In 2001, 234 units got the go-ahead, and 1,185 building permits
Butch Knowlton, La Plata County’s director of housing and
safety, said that 2004 promises to be another boom year for county
developments of all sizes.
| A youngster gets taken for
quite a ride with the help of a pair of in-line skates as
the pair passes the Rivergate construction site along the
Animas River./Photo by Todd Newcomer.
“Everyone’s saying it’s going to be a really
strong year for construction,” he said. “The economy
is right for investment in La Plata County.”
In Durango in 2003, building permits were issued for 320 new
residential units. That’s a record high, beating the previous
high of 211 residential units in 2001. In 2002, permits to build
124 units were pulled.
“It was sort of a coincidence that a number of developments
in the works got their approvals in 2001 or 2002 and pulled their
permits in 2003,” said City Planner Greg Hoch. “This
coming year, I don’t expect to see that amount of building.”
Hoch added that there were between 50 and 80 units that were
approved that had not yet pulled their permits for building, and
he expected developers to ask for approval of 100 to 200 units
While some smaller developments are handled by city staff, more
frequently the plans that are proposed are for so-called4 planned
developments, Hoch said. Those developments, like the Southern
Ute Indian Tribe’s Three Springs project in Grandview, combine
the zoning and subdivision of land and must go before the City
Council for approval.
It’s these large developments that have groups like Friends
of the Animas Valley concerned. Renee Parsons, president of the
organization, and Richard Nobman, the vice president, say they’re
not opposed to development, but they’d like to see more
sustainable growth that is shaped by a more open process.
While Parsons said the group focuses most of its energies on
large developments, the small ones do add up.
“Independently, these may seem like benign projects, but
the cumulative impacts of those smaller projects 85 nobody’s
really considering that impact,” Parsons said.
Nobman said sustainable growth takes into account the available
resources, such as roads, water, schools, fire, police and other
such, and builds according to what those services can sustain.
The two worry that current growth is not sustainable, and that
the area will become unaffordable and lose its sense of community.
“Durango is a small Western town, and that’s why
a lot of people live here,” Nobman said. “It’s
why a lot of people sacrifice income to live here, and this growth
will do nothing toward making it better. What you’re going
to end up with is something like Grand Junction.”
Nancy Lauro, director of planning services for the county, remarked
that the county is divided into 10 planning areas and one area
of joint review with Durango. All but two of those planning areas
have land use plans that outline development goals and what’s
compatible with the areas. The county is currently working on
plans for its southeast and southwest sections.
Lauro said limited access to water has kept growth pressure off
those areas for the most part, but that could change if the La
Plata-Archuleta Water District project eventually brings water
to the southeast part of the county.
Generally speaking, Lauro said that the county is working to
concentrate intense development near existing development and
keep rural areas relatively undeveloped.
“We think the intense development should go where there’s
access to water and sewer and schools,” Lauro said.
And although there’s some land at Tamarron and Durango
Mountain Resort designated for resort development, concentrated
development isn’t really what the county is after, she added.
Decades ago, some areas of the county were developed into almost
“We’re really not thinking it’s very appropriate
to do that again,” Lauro said. “Where there’s
intense development now, you can continue. But we’re not
really going out and creating new growth centers.”
Hoch said the city encourages the same kind of like-development
in an area, while considering, at the same time, the concerns
of the neighbors.
“We’ve encouraged in-fill in the appropriate places,
and we’re experiencing in-fill,” he said. “But
we don’t want to encourage in-fill in areas not meant to
be in-fill, like single-family neighborhoods.”
And while some are reeling from the current growth levels, others
are struggling to get project approval.
“What is characteristic of the development scene today
is that the pace and scale of it has jumped in the last five years
compared to the previous 20,” Hoch said. “And it has
been marked by increasingly polarized community interest groups.
The pro-housing people vs. the no-growth people – that division
has become a lot more pronounced in the last five years.”