A current public hearing in front of commissioners is revealing a bigger problem that currently exists in Nathrop, or as Chaffee County planning manager Jon Roorda put it, “We are trying to deal with streets, lots and alleys created in 1881, in 2021.”
When Nathrop was laid out in 1881, it was set up with 60-foot-wide roadways, split by 25-foot-wide alleyways, with housing lots 25- by 150-feet in size.
Current county land use codes require that each structure on a lot must be set back 15 feet from the edge of the property. Since the lots are only 25 feet wide, it would be impossible to build a home on one of the lots.
While the lots can be sold separately, since they were grandfathered into the county, most today are grouped together into three to five lots, to form one lot large enough on which to build.
“The requirement moving forward,” Roorda said, “is we cannot increase non-conformity (to the current land use code). Combining three lots into one decreases the non-conformity.”
Chaffee County Habitat for Humanity owns five lots in Nathrop, which they purchased.
They originally built a single-family unit on, but it had to be torn down, due to poor upkeep by the previous owners.
Dale Shoemaker, Habitat board president, said they would like to build two units on these lots, one on three and another on two.
“That’s our goal, to build two houses,” Shoemaker said. “We could just build on what we have, but we can help more by providing twice as much housing. That is Habitat’s mission, to create affordable housing.”
During one of the public hearings on the matter, Shoemaker was asked why they were building the units in Nathrop, instead of Buena Vista or Salida.
He said they would love to build something closer to the municipalities, but cannot afford anything.
Habitat can meet current land use codes by combing three of the smaller lots into one, Shoemaker said, but the other two lots are just a bit too small to meet the requirements for separate wastewater treatments.
To meet those requirements, Shoemaker and Habitat has requested the county vacate part of the alley on the block, and part of E Street/CR 197.
Roorda said that sometime between 1960 and 1980, about 3/4 of E Street were vacated, but the ¼ running alongside Habitat’s property, was not. He said they haven’t been able to figure out why.
And although the land was vacated and returned and split among the existing property owners, they still use E Street and the alley to the south, which runs behind their houses.
Several residents, including Jim Jimerson and Norman Weier, allow access across their property, on what used to be E Street and the south alleyway, to the other residents. They said it is accessed for parking, delivering propane, trash pickup and other uses.
Roorda said that while the area is used, it doesn’t exist in a legal sense, and both Roorda and Shoemaker pointed out that at any time, one of the neighbors could fence their area off, legally denying access.
County Commissioner “Keith Baker wants to take a big picture look at the situation and try and create a long term fix,” Shoemaker said. “And I agree with him. We don’t want to cut off anyone’s access, we just want what they have, a vacation of that other ¼ of the road, so we can build.”
Shoemaker said if they aren’t granted the vacation, they still plan to build two units, they will just need to look at other options.
When asked what it is like trying to deal with these lots from 1881, Shoemaker said, “I kind of wish we were back then, we could just put an outhouse out there and be done with it. But we try and provide more convenience now.”