A gravel road that wends its way through a copse of trees and along open acreage on Hastings Mesa will stay put for now. At its Wednesday meeting, the San Miguel County Planning Commission (CPC) voted unanimously to recommend denial of an application that proposed the county vacate County Road 61V with the applicant subsequently rerouting it through open land he owns and privatizing another portion of the vacated road. The recommendation to deny will be passed to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), which will review the application at a future meeting.
The applicant, Rod Lewis of Spitfire Realty LLC, was represented by Montrose attorney Brad Switzer, who described his client as “in the business of accumulating property for ranching purposes.” The proposal to reroute the gravel road, which gives access to residents living in Hastings Estates and Hastings Mesa Estates (58 lots in all), drew stiff opposition from neighbors who sent more than 35 emails to the county planning department and nearly filled the meeting room in the Miramonte building. CR 61V, though in the county’s road inventory, is not maintained by the county, nor is it plowed in the winter, but rather, is maintained by a coalition of neighbors banded under the moniker County Road 61V Voluntary Homeowners Association. It stems off CR 58P, which traverses Hastings Mesa from Highway 62 to Highway 145 in Sawpit.
“We took it upon ourselves to take care of that road,” said Carol Hiatt. The group has spent more than $150,000 to maintain the road over the last 20 years.
The road’s proposed re-alignment would place it further away from a home on one of the lots Spitfire owns and run it through a second Spitfire lot, which is an open meadow.
Claims by the applicant that the re-aligned CR 61V would be safer, particularly in the winter, were disputed by many neighbors both present at the meeting and who had submitted comments for the record to the county planning department. Neighbors also expressed concern that the proposed road placement would disrupt wildlife and encourage non-native plant species to take hold.
“This seems so unnecessary,” said Hastings resident Caroline Gilbert.
Switzer, in his presentation to the CPC before chair Lee Taylor opened the floor to public comment, cast doubt on the veracity of the HOAs governing Hastings Estates and the road maintenance group. But the “ambiguities” Switzer claimed did not sway CPC members, who took HOA covenants to heart in recommending to deny.
The covenant in question is part of the Hastings Estates HOA and states, “No permanent improvements, roads or driveways shall be placed in the area designated as ‘open meadow’ and bounded by ‘tree line’ on the plat of such subdivision unless consented to in writing by the Architectural Control Committee hereinafter defined and established.”
Spitfire’s Rod Lewis, a Texas oil and gas tycoon and founder and chief executive of Lewis Energy based in San Antonio, has had a fraught relationship with his neighbors since shortly after he purchased three adjacent tracts of land; two in Hastings Estates — Lots 1 and 2 — and one known as the Adams Ranch property in 2014. He set to work mining gravel on the Adams Ranch property, leaving a pond in the resulting pit. It went unfilled and without required revegetation until this summer, when an abundant snow year and a wet spring served to filled the pond and nourish the revegetation project.
Next, Lewis pulled a permit in 2017 to renovate a house on Lot 1. That project recently received a temporary certificate of occupancy and will get its final CO once additional work is completed.
In February, the CPC and then the BOCC issued Spitfire conditional approval for a special use permit that allowed Lewis to restore a pair of grass airstrips on his land. Lewis is an avid aviator.
Neighbors said all those activities have been impactful. On June 7, neighbors Carol Hiatt and Jay Crowell submitted a Daily Planet letter to the editor. In it, they questioned the need for the re-alignment, saying, “ … it is not in the best interest of the subdivisions that this road serves.” Further, the letter stated, “It is Spitfire Realty’s intention to privatize that first section of CR 61V road for Mr. Lewis’s personal use. It is also their intention to re-route the other 54 landowners to the outskirts of a parcel of land currently owned by Spitfire.”
County staff, in its memo to CPC members, explained several issues identified by nearby residents. Those issues include “impacts on winter access; whether there is a need to relocate the road; impacts on views; and shifting of traffic closer to other lots. Some note that the current location of 61V has functioned well for many years and that there are no known safety issues with the current alignment,” according to the memo.
County Planner Kaye Simonson said that the re-alignment would split Spitfire’s Lot 2 tract and that if the CPC were to recommend approval for the proposal, it would have to be made clear that language would have to be included to prevent the construction of more than one dwelling.
“Staff’s concern with this application and the potential conveyance of the right-of-way by deed is that it could be seen to result in Lot 2 being divided into two parcels whereby a future landowner would think there are two buildable lots,” Simonson’s memo read, in part. “There is precedence wherein tracts are considered to be split due to intervening deeded rights-of-way. Should the vacation and realignment of County Road 61V be approved, a condition of approval should be included stating that Lot 2 shall not be split and deemed two separate parcels through the dedication of the right-of-way and may only be split consistent with the subdivision regulations of the Land Use Code.”
One of Spitfire’s arguments in support of the proposed re-alignment across Lot 2 was that residents used a semblance of that route in the winter when using snow machines to access their homes.
“Their actions show it is a preferred route,” Switzer told the CPC in his presentation.
But in the public comment portion of the meeting, property owner spokesperson, Dan Elder, said that given the past and ongoing impacts he claimed Spitfire’s activities inflicted on neighbors, those in opposition “have low confidence with commitments and promises Spitfire makes.”
Ultimately, voted to deny recommendation of the proposal. The motion cites a number of applicable Land Use Codes to support it. In casting his nay vote, CPC member Ian Bald said, “I see no advantage to using the meadow (through Lot 2) and no compelling reason (to vacate) CR 61V.”
CPC member M. J. Schillaci agreed, saying the new road would create “greater visual impacts.”
Chair Lee Taylor and commission member Pam Hall cited the HOA covenant regarding new roadways as something they both felt was germane to supporting the motion to recommend denial.
“Covenants are important,” Hall said.
The proposal will next be reviewed by the BOCC at a future meeting. BOCC can overrule the CPC recommendation, if it sees fit.