A Summit Lake landowner has filed a civil suit against Montezuma County claiming unfair treatment on a land use decision.
The county said its decision is based on a Colorado Department of Transportation position that no new homes be built in that area until a state highway is improved to access the neighborhood.
A one-day trial is set for Feb. 24 in Montezuma County District Court.
Plaintiff Ellis Lewis owns a 40-acre property on Road 36.75 along the eastern shore of Summit Lake.
As part of a lawsuit, he claims the Board of County Commissioners’ decision on a subdivision denied him property rights by prohibiting construction of accessory homes allowed under the land use code. For parcels at least 3 acres, the code generally allows for a main residence and accessory home.
The commissioners and county planning board said the restriction for no new homes is tied to CDOT position that additional homes cannot be built in the area unless a left-hand turn lane is installed on Colorado Highway 184 to access Road 37 into the neighborhood.
The housing development owned by Lewis was created on the property in the mid-1970s and includes four homes that are occupied.
The homes are not divided into separate parcels, and are all owned by the Lewis trust. The project was built before the 1998 Land Use Code.
In March, in order to come into compliance with the current code, Lewis proposed a General Planned Unit Development to create eight lots on the property. But he was advised by the county planning board that it was inappropriate, in part because of the CDOT requirement that additional homes could not be built pending the left-hand turn lane off the highway.
In May 2021 Lewis adjusted the plan to create a four-lot subdivision that included the existing homes. One lot has two homes, and the other three lots each have one residence.
The commissioners approved the four-lot subdivision, which includes approximately two 8-acre lots, a 3-acre lot, and a 22-acre lot.
The county added conditions that additional home building could not take place on the property unless CDOT approval is granted, which they said is contingent on a left-hand turn lane being installed on Colorado Highway 184 to access Road 37 south of the highway.
The neighborhood accessed by Road 37 includes about 45 residences and a church camp.
In an email to The Journal, CDOT Permits Program Manager Randee Reider, stated that “CDOT and Montezuma County officials agree that a left turn deceleration lane is needed for the safety of the residents on CR 37, as well as the safety of the traveling public.”
There is no current CDOT access permit for County Road 37, Reider said. The county can defer to the developer to submit the CDOT access permit.
Based on the existing development off County Road 37, “a left turn deceleration lane is more than likely warranted,” Reider stated. “Any additional development would trigger the need for the left turn deceleration lane.”
At least 50% of the traffic on CR 37 comes and goes from Mancos via Colorado Highway 184, she said.
The costs associated with the highway improvements will be the responsibility of the county or the developer, according to CDOT.
In a separate action, the commissioners denied a variance sought by Lewis requesting that one of the residences in the subdivision share a leach field with a neighboring lot.
In their denial of the variance, the commissioners stated each lot must have its own designated and approved septic system and leach field to stay in compliance with the land use code and prevent problems later. Lewis stated he could comply with the requirement and reported he has installed a new leach field specific for the Lot 2 residence.
Ellis hopes to improve Road 36.75 by widening it. He said a survey shows his property extends beyond his fence line toward the road. He wants to designate it as a public right of way in order to widen the road to meet county standards.
Neighbors have objected to widening the road because would crowd their properties and may require trees bushes and fences to be removed. A boundary adjustment is being considered.
After the four-lot subdivision was approved, Lewis objected to the building restrictions in a tense exchange with the commissioners. He cited the land use code that allows properties over 3 acres to have one home and one accessory home, a situation he complies with.
“For you to place on my property a restriction that you do not place on other properties is a violations of my rights,” Lewis said. “In my opinion, the action in this case is a direct violation of the 5th Amendment.”
Commissioner Jim Candelaria said CDOT’s requirement is an issue of traffic safety and “health safety and welfare” of the public.