Growth on city fringes concerns Fruita officials

PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON—Fruita developments.Art to go with LeRoy’s story on URRs.Sent as URRs 10-18.

It’s not country, it’s not city. The address, 1216 18 1/2 Road, is kind of in between.

James Wilkie, 63, used to live there. He used to farm the land. But farming is not what it used to be, and in 2006 he sold out and moved to Loma.

“I just put it up for sale. I wanted out of the valley and out of debt,” Wilkie said. “I sold it as a piece of ground. I don’t care what they done with it.”

The ground was sold for half a million dollars to Golden Ranch Estates LLC, according to the Mesa County Assessor’s Office Web site.

But the land, located in Mesa County just outside Fruita, was zoned agricultural, where the county code allows for only one home per five acres. To turn Wilkie’s old 20-acre farm into a subdivision where more than four homes would be allowed would require a change to county code.

The change occurred in 2008 with the creation of Urban Residential Reserves between L and M roads and 19 and 20 roads. The Urban Residential Reserve allows a developer to build one home for every two acres of land. In the case of Golden Ranch Estates, the Urban Residential Reserve allowed a rural, four-home development on 20 acres to be transformed into a rural/urban development with nine homes clustered on one-acre lots, with a tenth lot exceeding 10 acres left as open space.

It is a zoning classification that has created tension between Fruita and Mesa County, mainly because the city does not have the resources to provide services to those developments, Fruita officials said. The main function that Fruita cannot provide is sewer service.

“If we can’t provide sewer, it is unrealistic for someone to develop at urban densities,” Furita Mayor Ken Henry said.

The Mesa County Commission and county staff were working to find a compromise, but at the same time preserve individual property rights, Commissioner Craig Meis said.

The Urban Residential Reserves, he said, “are the best of both worlds.” Meis said he could not tell people who owns 20 acres that they could sell their land for only a fraction of what it would be worth if it were buildable land, especially if they were retiring farmers.

An Urban Residential Reserve keeps development close to a city boundary, thereby limiting sprawl, but requires the development to meet some urban level standards with sidewalks and roads.

“The increased density is a trade-off for them reserving 40 percent of the site for future urban development,” said Linda Dannenberg, director of the land use and development division of Mesa County.

Henry said Fruita has compromised on the sewer issue and is OK with having the developments use leach fields, as long as the soils are suitable. But he said he wants the county to compromise and require that Urban Residential Reserve developments tap into Fruita’s sewer system as it expands because of population growth.

The Urban Residential Reserve concept can work, and work well, to the east of Fruita between 19 and 20 Roads, Henry said. To the west of Fruita, the Urban Residential Reserves would not be welcomed, Henry said.

The reason is sewer service. Fruita’s wastewater treatment plant is at 15 Road and the Colorado River. It can reach new developments far easier to the west of town than to the east, Henry said.

“I see Fruita’s development north and west,” Henry said. “East and north of Fruita it is going to be a long time before there is adequate sewer to that area.”


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