Let’s adopt a lesser plan

Essay by Marcia Darnell

Planning – January 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

LAST SUMMER, a friend and I were winding our way through Crestone’s Baca Grande, an association-controlled, building-approved nondevelopment, when I saw something shocking.

“I didn’t know there was a hotel here,” I said.

It wasn’t a hotel. It wasn’t even a house. It was the garage to a house.

The garage was larger than my home in Alamosa. The house itself loomed over the Baca like something out of Poe on a bad night.

“Why the hell do people build these monstrosities?” I wondered aloud. “No one needs five thousand square feet of living space. Besides, it ruins the view for everyone else in the area.”

My friend, who lives in a trailer the size of a rowboat, laughed.

“Don’t you know people with money want to show off,” he said. “What’s the use of having it if others don’t envy you for it?”

A sick attitude, but probably true. What’s really repugnant is that counties and homeowner associations not only allow this diseased outlook, but encourage it.

Most building regulations demand a certain amount of minimal space. For instance, Costilla County requires at least 600 square feet (not that they check on it), while the Zapata Homeowners Associations won’t let you build a house under 1,000.

This leads people to think in terms of trophy homes instead of basic shelter. After all, if you have to build more than you need, you might as well add that hot tub room, and sauna, and weight room ….

Pretty soon you have a structure that could house 22 people in comfort, but instead usually serves as a weekend getaway for a childless couple.

Many have observed the resulting cascade of development, taxation, development, Realtor invasion, development, paved roads, more taxation, and the squeeze on full-time residents. We’ve seen it happen, from Aspen to Boulder to Central City.

How to stop it? By changing one word in the zoning regulations.

Instead of minimum square footage, let’s try imposing a maximum house size of, say, 1,800 square feet.

That’s enough to provide a comfortable home for a family and it’ll guarantee that the single-malt-scotch crowd stays away from your area, because if they can’t put up a stately pleasure dome in your county, they’ll likely look elsewhere.

And those who do build will probably be good neighbors — the kind who like the area for what it is, not what they think it should be. The kind who want to join the community, not conquer it.

Think of it — a neighborhood of well-designed homes owned by people who actually live in them. No mansions, no electronic gates, and probably no interior designers.

It’s worth a try. Call your town board, get up a petition and see what a one-word change can do.

Marcia Darnell lives in a 1,040-square-foot house in Alamosa, where she practices cynicism, curmudgeonry, and journalism.