The Dolores Town Board has delayed making a decision on whether to grant a controversial subdivision request by a developer who wants to build homes on a hillside off North Ninth Street.
“I think we need more time, and should continue the meeting so we can seek advice from our attorney,” board member Ginger McClellan-Swope said at Tuesday’s meeting.
After discussing the matter, the board voted to continue the subdivision review to the Oct. 24 meeting, at which point it expects a decision to be made.
At issue is whether builder Michael C. Green should be granted a subdivision request on land he owns along a steep hillside at the north end of Ninth Street.
By subdividing one of two parcels, Green would have room to build three two-story homes, each less than 1,000 square feet, along the lower slopes of the hillside.
Thirty residents turned out at an earlier planning meeting and again at the Tuesday board meeting urging the subdivision be denied.
Earlier this month, the planning board unanimously recommended the town approve the subdivision but with conditions. The board wants a geologic hazard and drainage study to be conducted by a civil engineer, whose recommendations would be followed by the builder, and that there be adequate access for emergency vehicles.
On Tuesday, eight spoke out against the subdivision, citing potential safety hazards of building on a steep hillside and view shed concerns. They also worried approval would set a precedent for more hillside development. Two spoke in support of the project.
Ellis Lewis defended Green’s constitutional right to build on his private property, saying it would be considered a “taking” requiring just compensation if the project is denied.
Dolores Mayor Santiago Lopez stressed that the subdivision request only determines where the lot lines will be and does not affect Green’s right to build on the property if he meets the requirements of the building and land-use codes.
“Whether we approve or deny the subdivision, he still has a right to build on his property,” Lopez said.
Town Trustee Izzy Boyce said she appreciates a landowner’s right to build but said she wants a third party engineer to analyze whether the hillside is safe to build on.
“We sure don’t want the hazards. I’d want to see a stamped engineer report,” she said.
If the board approves the subdivision with conditions, they must be met before the plat is approved, officials said.
Trustee Val Truelsen said the subdivision decision should be based on geologic and flood hazards, not because the public “doesn’t like it.” Trustee James Biard said the property owner has a right to build a home, but he pointed out that an approval would allow more homes to be built there.
Green told the board the planned homes are well designed and would be a “positive asset to the landscape.”
He has no objection to the conditions for geologic and drainage studies, and said he plans to address potential hazards and concerns of the public.
“The purpose is to build single-family homes, not put people at risk,” he said.
Residents have been outspoken about the proposal, and are pushing for it to be denied.
“It needs more analysis on the geologic hazards of building there,” said John Chmelir. “The hillside has active erosion, and building on hillsides comes with many surprises.”
Mike Riley, a neighbor of the site, said the proposal fails the definition of usable land in the land-use code.
“Building there risks destabilizing the hillside,” he said.
Added resident Nikki Sargent, “I don’t think the town should set a precedent for development on the hillside.”
Green said the site is buildable and the small homes would be constructed near the base of the hillside and cut into the slope marginally.
He said there is a “misconception” among neighbors that the homes would be built high up the hillside.
Dolores Town Manager Lana Hancock said where exactly the home sites would be on the lots would be part of the building permit application.
At the planning meeting, the Dolores town attorney said approval or denial of the subdivision does not set legal precedent.
“Your recommendation does not tie future boards,” he said. “If you don’t recommend it, the next board could support it.”
He said that for the town to prohibit a new home that meets building code requirements and the land-use code would require extensive justification.
“The developer also needs to demonstrate there is adequate easements for utilities and there needs to be an engineering report on the stability of the hillside,” said planning board member Deanna Truelsen. “I’ve lived here 50 years and seen a lot of rocks come down.”
Green said he has a lot of experience as a developer adding that the force of the foundations will be a stabilizing factor.
“I’ve designed and built 180 homes,” he said.
Before construction, the building inspector needs to approve a building permit, which includes specific site development within lots.