Steamboat Springs A planning tool developed to preserve open space and satisfy development demands in rural Routt County is paying off.
The Routt County Planning Department recently released a short study indicating developers see greater financial gains from clustering smaller building lots to conserve land rather than dividing property into larger, scattered 35-acre parcels.
Routt County introduced the land preservation subdivision (LPS) in 1995 as a way to encourage cluster development for better utilization of property and preservation of open space. However, there have been some concerns that zoning incentives meant to encourage developers to pursue LPS projects are not great enough to outweigh the process's bureaucratic hassles.
Under LPS regulations, developers who cluster homesites within a property and thereby preserve 100 or more acres as agricultural land, wildlife habitat or other open space can build more homes than allowed under the standard agricultural zoning of one home per 35 acres. Specifically, the county awards a developer one "bonus lot" for every 100 acres preserved.
That means, for example, that a landowner with 350 acres who clusters all development onto 150 acres and preserves 200 acres as open space could put 12 homesites on the property rather than the 10 allowed under standard agricultural zoning. A developer with 140 acres could build five homes instead of four if he clustered the homes within 40 acres.
However, some feel the bonus-lot incentive isn't working and developers are sticking with larger lots to avoid what they perceive to be a lengthy planning process.
The county hopes the findings of its new study refute misconceptions about the process and shed new light on the benefits of clustering development.
County planner John Eastman said the study gives credence to the intrinsic and monetary value of a land preservation subdivision.
The study compares the market share of LPS lots to 35-acre to 50-acre subdivided lots between 1996 and 2001.
LPS lots in Routt County have captured 29 percent of the market on average, with a high of 45 percent in 1999 and a low of 8 percent in 2001. The low percentage would have risen to 37 percent had the Hidden Springs Ranch LPS been completed in 2001, Eastman said.
A more telling aspect of the study is its selling power comparison of LPS lots to larger parcels.
The county compared the Creek Ranch LPS with adjacent 35-acre lots in the Deerwood Ranch subdivision on County Road 179 and found that LPS lots averaged 66 percent more sales between 1999 and 2002.
Eastman said the difference could stem from extra amenities, such as a common barn and ranch house and access to Trout Creek, offered at Creek Ranch. But the fundamental elements of any land preservation subdivision likely had something to do with higher sales, he added.
Potential buyers may find lots in a land preservation subdivision more appealing because owners can live adjacent to agricultural land but do not need to bother with fencing, plowing or haying their property.
"LPS lots offer all the benefits of a rural lifestyle without the headache of owning 35-acre lots," Eastman said.
Buyers share the open space and have assurance their scenic vistas will not soon change or be disrupted by more new homes, County Planning Commissioner Diane Mitsch-Bush said.
Open space in a land preservation subdivision is honored for 40 years, at which point the county can either approve or deny a request to develop the land.
A land preservation subdivision yields higher profits than subdivided lots when bonus lots and design savings are factored in, Eastman said.
Not only is there the benefit of having extra lots to sell, but clustering houses also reduces construction costs.
A land preservation subdivision requires fewer roads and shorter utility and water lines because development is not so scattered.
The developers who create a land preservation subdivision and the buyers who build on LPS lots are not the only people who benefit, Mitsch-Bush said.
Clustering houses maximizes the value of property by setting aside a majority of the land for agricultural purposes. Valuable ranchland is preserved to help sustain agriculture in the Yampa Valley, Mitsch-Bush said.
"This is one of the tools in the toolbox to help ranchers get money out of their property," Eastman said.