Terri Hayes mug USE

Terri Hayes

Last month’s installment was just an introduction to this development series, so today, we are starting from the ground up, literally.

Driving around the Tri-Lakes area, you will see acres of open space. At least that is how most residents refer to it. Some areas are kept neat and mowed, some have tall weeds and trees and some even host grazing cows. However, to start understanding the development process, we need to use correct terminology. This land is not open space, it is undeveloped. Almost all the land in the Tri-Lakes area is not owned by El Paso County or local municipalities, it is owned by private citizens, families or corporations.

In some cases, local land has been owned for decades and is probably the biggest asset someone owns. It could be earmarked for a family’s retirement or passed down from parent to child to fund their futures. What is not witnessed by the public are those conversations around the dinner table or in offices over the years, discussing and planning when financially it might make sense to develop.

That perfect time for many in the area started around 10-15 years ago and has really ramped up the last five years. Those new to the area think it is a rural, quaint locale, compared to where they came from. Those who have lived here for 30, 40 or 50-plus years think we have become big-city-like and remember when there were minimal businesses, a lot fewer houses and the development along Jackson Creek Parkway was a mere twinkle in someone’s eye.

Most, even those new transplants, would love to keep at least some of the undeveloped land just that — undeveloped. Not liking something or not wanting development to happen, is not a viable or legal reason to stop it. Opinions cannot stop a family from selling their land if the use matches what is allowed and they have all their I’s dotted and T’s crossed. Residents would not like to be told whether they were allowed to sell their houses or not and the same thing goes for undeveloped land.

What can be done to keep some of it undeveloped? The easiest way is to buy the land yourself. This happened last year in the Woodmoor area. Residents got together and came to an agreement with the landowners so they could buy it and it would not be developed. This option usually requires serious funding or at least fundraising. You can pay attention to the local and county planning commission meetings to see if a development is asking for a zoning change that would change what is currently allowed in that area. Those can be fought if you think the ask is worse and most of the time the developer and local residents come to an agreement, where both sides compromise.

A great step to take early on is research and then communicate. Who owns the empty land near you that you and your dog walk on every day? Will they share their plans for the future? What is it currently zoned? Get to know the players and see if you can influence or encourage their plans.

Then get to know your neighbors. Are they aware of what is happening locally? Help them get more involved. Start attending town and county planning meetings, even if there is not anything on the agenda, yet, of interest.

Start building relationships, get familiar with the process. Get ready to compromise. Don’t like how many houses will be built in a certain area but you have also always wanted sidewalks? Let the developer know your preferences. You would be amazed at how often compromise is the end result. Bottom line, get involved. More things can change at beginning than at the end, so be present for the whole process.

Next month, we will talk about zoning, what it means and how to tell what that neighboring development might be.

Terri Hayes is President & CEO of the Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Corporation and Visitor Center. Contact her at Terri@trilakeschamber.com.

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