City revisits topic of duplex-condo conversion

In an effort to ease the affordable housing crunch, city officials are looking at the possibility of allowing downtown duplexes to be converted into individual units.

Currently, the Durango Land Use and Development Code prohibits any condominiumization of residential structures not zoned “Residential, Multi-Family,” or “RM.” As such, property owners could not convert duplexes into two separate units for sale in any zones other than RM zones. This regulation, added to the Code in 1989, was only recently discovered last year by City Planning Staff. Following this discovery, an amendment to the Code was proposed by Planning Staff that would allow residential structures to be converted into condos outside RM zones on lots 7,500-square feet or larger. However the amendment was rejected after City Council expressed concern over the preservation of historic neighborhoods.

Yet, a July 22 City Council Study Session saw the issue brought back to light, as City Planning Staff proposed a new course of action on condo conversions. As its main focus, City Staff proposed a text amendment that would separate out historic neighborhoods from other, newer neighborhoods where condo conversions could be allowed, while evaluating strategies to preserve the historic character of all neighborhoods.

However City Council members remained skeptical as to the effect these condos would have on historical, single-family neighborhoods. They also expressed concerns that the change would lead to an increase in scrape-offs of existing homes.

Despite understanding council’s concerns, some residents still support the idea of condominiumization as a means to more affordable housing and an answer to sprawl.

“‘Condo’ has a really ugly connotation to it, but what people need to understand is that it’s just a way to split ownership of a building,” said Sam King, who has been an outspoken advocate for condominiumization. Ownership of a single unit is more affordable and valuable for an individual than it is for a single person to own a large, multiple-unit residence, he said. Furthermore, such large buildings divvied up are less complicated and easier to maintain in the long run.

As a landlord, Durango resident Sarah Wright sees having separate individual units as more logical. “The market is for smaller units, and the rental market is for even smaller units,” she said. “Multi-person rentals aren’t desirable; that’s not what our town needs.”

However, both King and Wright understand that while accommodating the inevitable growth of Durango is important, maintaining its historical character is equally important. Setting specific requirements and design standards would not only prevent scrape-offs but could also help residences better meet safety and design codes.

“A ‘condo’ should mean a beautiful modification that allows people to come in here and get what they need,” King said. He added that thinking through conversions and following strict design standards will protect the character of neighborhoods while improving them and providing more housing. “That’s what design standards are for,” he said. “These decisions we make now will affect the way the city looks in 10, 20, 30 years.”

Nevertheless, he warned against holding off on a decision. “To sit on it now and hope it will go away is the worst possible plan.”

According to City Planning Staff, condominiumization not only provides an economic incentive in the form of separate ownership, it also allows for more building options within a single lot. Condominiumization also would help protect the town’s historical character by requiring that original residences be built upon and converted to more accommodating housing, as opposed to simply building new houses that may conflict with a neighborhood’s character.

A new amendment allowing condo conversions in select zones will be written by Planning Staff and discussed with City Council at a future meeting. A public hearing allowing Durango residents to weigh in on this issue was also tentatively discussed, but not scheduled.

West Slope uranium leases awarded

Despite major drops in the price of uranium, the radioactive rush has surged ahead in Western Colorado. The U.S. Department of Energy recently granted 16 separate 10-year leases for uranium and vanadium mining on leases north of Dove Creek.

More than 100 interested parties were on the potential bidder’s list when the solicitation began. However, the list was whittled down to just a handful when the leases were awarded in late June. Seven leases were awarded to Golden Eagle Uranium, four leases went to Energy Fuels Resources and U.S. Uranium Corp., and Zenith Minerals was awarded one lease.

A total of 25,000 acres spanning 32 lease tracts on the Western Slope have been set aside by the DOE for uranium mining purposes. The 16 new leases will lead to approximately 1,000 acres of surface disturbance. The estimated ore reserves on the 25,000 acres is 13.5 million pounds of uranium, which accounts for less than 2 percent of the nation’s known uranium reserves – estimated at almost 900 million pounds.

Durango ponies up for wild horses

Residents of Southwest Colorado can help the Spring Creek Wild Horse herd of Disappointment Valley in coming weeks. The San Juan Mountains Association is sponsoring several activities for Pony Up Month during the month of August.

Pony-Up Month is designed to raise money for and increase awareness of wild horses in Colorado, particularly the Spring Creek Herd in Disappointment Valley, northwest of Cortez. Proceeds will be used to assist the Bureau of Land Management with improving habitat to help enhance and sustain the Spring Creek herd, supporting work efforts by volunteers, and increasing public awareness of these symbols of Western heritage.

The 22,000-acre Spring Creek Herd Management Area is managed by the BLM to support 35 to 65 horses in a sustainable manner. A newly formed group called the Disappointment Wild Bunch Partners includes SJMA, the National Mustang Association, and the Mesa Verde and Four Corners Back Country Horsemen groups. Over the years, volunteers from these groups have assisted the BLM on a variety of tasks, including fencing repairs and installation, tamarisk removal near water sources, water feature construction, population counts, habitat improvements, and efforts to increase public awareness of the herd and its needs.

Pony Up Month’s main event will be held on the evening of Aug. 19 at the Durango Arts Center. A public reception is scheduled for 6 p.m. and will be followed by celebrated Colorado photographer Claude Steelman’s slide-show presentation of photographs from his recently published book, Colorado’s Wild Horses. A book signing and silent auction will follow. Tickets are on sale at the San Juan Public Lands Center in Durango or online at In addition, Steamworks Brewing Co. will donate a percentage of beer sales at their Bayfield and Durango locations in August to the effort and will host Pony-Up events with a Western theme all month.

– Beth Lueck and Will Sands


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