Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Apache County Gets Tough on Illegal Subdivisions

by Judy Hayes, White Mountain Independent 1/24/2006

ST. JOHNS - The construction of illegal subdivisions in Apache county may soon come to a halt since the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a revision to the county's subdivision ordinance making the process of repeatedly splitting lots and selling them off much more difficult.

      "This ordinance now requires an application and administrative review for all minor land divisions, where any of the resulting lots is 10 acres or less," said Planning and Zoning Director Milton Ollerton. "The minor land division ordinance is for land divisions of five or less lots, while the regular subdivision ordinance is for land divisions of six or more lots."
      Commonly referred to as 'wildcat' subdivisions, they have been an ongoing problem in the unincorporated areas of Apache county, most recently in the Vernon area where there's been a tremendous demand for land.
      The process begins with someone buying a parcel of land and through a succession of land splits and property owners, the subdivision escapes the county's basic building requirements for appropriate roads, water and sewer lines and other improvements, often resulting in a crazy quilt of shabby neighborhoods.
      In addition to the infrastructure problems, these subdivisions limit the services of emergency vehicles and pose hazards to law enforcement unable to find addresses on the unmarked roads.
      The county recorder, assessor and treasurer's offices will all play a small part in processing the new requirements of this ordinance. "It's going to require a lot of effort up front and will require some education for the title companies, realtors as well as the property owners," said Ollerton, who anticipates holding public meetings to share details of the new procedures.
      "The minor land division ordinance now requires a survey and a minimum access of 30 feet," said Ollerton. "The administrative review will ensure the lot being split is not a part of an existing county subdivision, meets the zoning requirements for lot size and meets the minimum access. "
      "This ordinance will put Apache county way out in front of all the other small counties," said Supervisor David Brown. "We now have jumped to the forefront of any other small county who is addressing this issue including our next door neighbor. Number one, it's expensive, but we're willing to do it."
      Vernon contractor Ken Luttrell, who has fought against illegal subdivisions for 16 years, expressed his continued concerns about the county's ability to enforce the new regulations. "Will you work with the other agencies in the state on some of these issues?"
      "In the Vernon area, we're trying to have a nice community and we don't want a community that invites people who want to come in and just throw stuff in and get their money and get out," said Luttrell. "Plus we have to live in that community.
      "We've already got substandard roads and water lines, we've already got subdivisions that are inappropriate for the area," said Luttrell. "There needs to be some way to say that we just can't put a construction yard here, housing here, residential here. There needs to be some kind of process that suits the community and doesn't just suit whoever comes in and has the money to put it in."
      "Some of these concerns that Mr. Luttrell mentioned are the result of Vernon being the fastest growing area in the county," replied Ollerton. "There is an incredible amount of growth happening and a lot of interest and these pains that we're seeing in the Vernon area will continue until the town of Vernon incorporates and some of these problems can be more directly addressed.
      "Up to this point, we have had no enforcement capability, said Ollerton. "I've turned in 11 illegal subdivisions to the Department of Real Estate. One illegal subdivision they sat on for two years before they even filed any paperwork or contacted the owners."
      Ollerton explained that when his department reports an illegal subdivision to the state, they do a tremendous amount of work and documentation prior to submitting it. They look at all the land recordings and basically do a title report on all of the lots involved in an illegal subdivision - the last packet of paperwork they sent to the Department of Real Estate was over 500 pages.
      "(The changes) will enable us to now catch the problem up front instead of having to go and do it afterwards," said Ollerton, who explained that a lot of the time the county didn't find out about an illegal subdivision until after it was either developed or the properties had already been sold.
      County Manager Delwin Wengert told Luttrell that the county shares your concerns. "We want the Vernon area to grow in an organized manner and following the proper procedures. I think its important to say that the vast majority of its developers follow the rules and follow the county's guidelines," said Wengert. "I just want to make sure the public understands that the county's interest is your interest."
      "With the growth and development this county anticipates over the next ten years, this ordinance will serve to ensure growth is organized, access is adequate for emergency vehicles and further development," said Ollerton.

Reprinted for informational purposes only with attribution