OPINION: Gravel Pit Wars… Part Four

Read Part One

Part Three ended with a link to Pagosa Daily Post articles from 2010 when Thomas H. Smith, developer of the upscale gated subdivision Weldon Creek, was on the other side of the proverbial gravel pit wars – when he was the applicant for a gravel pit in Archuleta County. Long time residents close to that proposed gravel pit hired an attorney who represented them before the Archuleta County Planning Commission. Mr. Smith’s attorneys argued for the gravel pit, which was to supply gravel for a future PUD on his property adjacent to the Stevens Lake Reservoir.

After much wrangling over much time, the planning commission denied the gravel pit application, and the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners followed the planning commission’s recommendation. To this day, there is no gravel pit or PUD on Mr. Smith’s property adjacent to Stevens Lake.

Chaffee County could certainly use a new source of gravel that works well with our magnesium chloride road maintenance program. The proposed ACA/Holman gravel pit, named RB pit, has gravel with the plasticity index (moisture content) that fits that description. Because of its close location to where gravel is needed, the cost of gravel from the RB pit would presumably be less than gravel imported from a much greater distance.

But is the proposed RB pit too close for comfort?

Many residents of the County Road 140 corridor believe so, and have mounted a considerable effort to deny the Major Impact Review for a Land Use Change Permit that would permit the 27 acre gravel pit where there is now grazing land.

If you travel down CR 140, you will see that there many expensive homes along the CR 140 corridor.

This property is at the corner of CR 140 and CR 250, where the gravel transport trucks would evenly split between the two roads.

If you turn your head and look up into the hills that rise above CR 140, you will notice expensive homes on ridges. If you travel some of the roads off of CR 140, you’ll see more expensive homes. Million dollar properties. Retirement homes. Second homes.

What happened? How did it come to be that there are so many expensive homes along the CR 140 corridor?

First, it’s beautiful, with a mountainous backdrop, including Mt. Shavano. It’s peaceful, as opposed to living in the city. There are working ranches still. Abundant wildlife. It’s rural.

At some point a rancher, or other property owner of considerable acreage decided to sell either a portion of their property, or their entire property. They made money doing so.

Chances are that they sold to a developer. The developer went before the county planning commission and eventually obtained approval from the county commissioners and various county departments to sub-divide the property they purchased from a rancher or other owner. The developer spent a lot of money creating a subdivision.

Then the developer put the newly-created parcels up for sale. He and real estate agents made money selling the parcels. Then, people who could afford the parcels, and who were awestruck by the surrounding beauty and peacefulness of the rural location, bought the parcels and built homes on them. Expensive homes, for the most part.

Architects and those in the construction business made money building the homes. Building suppliers made money. The county made money throughout this process. The value of the property increased significantly, and therefore property taxes increased significantly. The new property owner paid for all of this. As new residents of Chaffee County, they spend money here. It’s called economic development, and something that the county has approved of, and benefited from.

I’ll go one step further and say that the CR 140 corridor and hills above it have, to a great extent, been “gentrified”. Pbs.org defines gentrification as “A general term for the arrival of wealthier people in an existing urban district, a related increase in rents and property values, and changes in the district’s character and culture. The term is often used negatively, suggesting the displacement of poor communities by rich outsiders.”

As stated above, gentrification normally describes urban areas, but I think the term applies to rural areas as well when upscale subdivisions replace ranches. The new owners with expensive homes – including some million dollar-plus homes – are heavily invested in the beautiful location they now call home. Or second home.

And they didn’t bargain for a gravel pit.  It’s a frightening unknown in perpetuity. So they are fighting it, and have the wherewithal to fight it.  They also have the right to fight it.  They feel sucker punched.

Is it right to put a gravel pit in an area that has been gentrified? Is it right to approve a permit for a gravel pit that is adjacent to an upscale, gated  subdivision that was required to include 1,000 acres of open space in order to be approved by the county?

These are two of many complex questions the commissioners must grapple with. Some of the questions have no good answers.

Cynda Green

Cynda Green is an investigative reporter who enjoys writing about various and sundry topics, least of which is politics. But someone has to do it. Contact: cyndagreen@gmail.com