More than 200 people attended a forum Thursday to express and hear concerns about Cortez’s proposed land use code.
The meeting was hosted by the Republican Women of Montezuma County at the Baymont Inn & Suites, and preceded the council’s final vote on the code, set for Jan. 28. If approved, the plan would go into effect in March. Another forum took place Dec. 5.
Forum organizers have opposed the code update, but the plan has prompted a larger question about whether a land use code was needed.
“Even if this fails on the 28th, we should not quit,” said developer Dave Waters, who repeatedly has criticized the plan. “Because they have pointed out to us things in this code that we had no idea were in this code, that they just haven’t enforced.”
The update, which includes new standards for landscaping, building aesthetics and design standards, has been in the works for about five years. It aims to align with the city’s Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2008.
“The regulations of this code shall be for the purpose of promoting the health, safety, convenience, order, prosperity and general welfare of the present and future inhabitants of Cortez,” the update states in its introductory section.
A draft of the update, which is over 400 pages long, was posted at the end of 2018, and since then, it has been revised and discussed at three public meetings and at several Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council meetings.
It was approved by Planning and Zoning commissioners in September and was on the table for a second reading and possible approval by City Council in October. But after receiving strong pushback from residents and business owners, councilors opted to delay the vote until the end of January to allow additioal feedback.
Thursday, community members crowded into a room at the Baymont Inn to listen to Waters share his complaints regarding the code and share their own thoughts and questions.
He was joined by fellow panelists Bonnie Leighton and Jason Witt from the Four Corners Board of Realtors, Montezuma County Commissioner Larry Don Suckla and local homeowner Jodie Henley.
Many participants raised questions about the cost that code regulations impose upon businesses – and the added cost of fines for noncompliance.
“It’s really hurting our businesses,” one woman said.
Henley, who represented the homeowners on the panel, said she bought her house over a decade ago, and now worries regulations would make modifications “cost-prohibitive.” She added that the land use code promoted “cookie cutter” homes and businesses through its regulation of materials and colors.
City Planner Tracie Hughes has said misconceptions about residential regulations surround the proposed code.
“We’re not requiring landscaping,” she told The Journal. “The design standards for the most part have not changed for homes.”
And in terms of the development costs, she said many builders already use the decorative materials required by the new code.
Others at the forum were concerned the code could encroach into the county. The new code references a “3-mile extraterritorial area” outside city limits, which could apply to certain street standards and potential developments.
Hughes said at the Jan. 7 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, though, that the city generally doesn’t have the authority to impose or enforce regulations outside city limits.
“We can review subdivisions for compliance with the Master Streets Plan, and the purpose of that is to ensure that we have a logical street pattern as we grow as a community,” she said.
City staff and opponents have noted that much of the proposed land use code is unchanged. However, because standards haven’t always been enforced, some people at the meeting Thursday questioned whether a land use code was necessary at all.
“We do not need land use codes, period, that go beyond the state constitutional requirement of health and safety of the ciiztens,” one audience member said.