Non-Conforming Parcels

As noted in the tab “The Devil is in the Details”, there are just over 17,000 legal tax parcels in San Juan County in 2018. Also noted are the variety of land uses. Most of the land area in the county is considered (and designated) some form of “rural”.

A non-conforming parcel is one whose actual size, in acres, is smaller than the density designation that it is in (i.e., to which it has been assigned). How could this be? Because many thousands of parcels were platted (i.e., made legal) before the county created its first Comprehensive Plan in 1979. After that time, smaller parcels that were created by subdividing larger parcels could not be created smaller than the density map’s assignment. Those pre-existing small parcels were “grandfathered” in.

Of all ~14,000 rural parcels in the county, 9518 (basically 2/3) of them are non-conforming. Overall they are very small; the average parcel size is about 2 and a quarter acres. (Over 4000 of those 9500 are less than one acre.) About 3800 of these non-conforming parcels, or roughly 40%, are undeveloped. About 44% of these are less than one acre.

So much for the stats. The issues surrounding these legally available to be developed small parcels in rural lands are many. Water availability (from wells), traffic volumes, preservation of rural character, noise, wildlife habitat, wetlands: just a few of the topics that circle around the never-discussed issue of “is this ok?” Many of those grandfathered parcels were put in decades ago by speculators imagining little villages or waterfront subdivisions, perhaps with dollar signs dancing in their eyeballs. Back then there were so few people, so little technology, no concerns about water availability or rural character or, most importantly, even an imagination of the cumulative impact of all these potentially inhabited structures on the commons, i.e., community values. The islands were for sale. They still are.

What isn’t happening is any education about this topic, any conversation about this topic, and any actions to mitigate problems that will emerge from the development of these parcels.