Montezuma County wants to review long-standing building restrictions in the Dolores River Valley established to control density and protect the local water source.
The commissioners approved two variances Tuesday for a potential residential building site along the Dolores River, triggering a discussion on whether the rules are too strict for property owners.
Under the county land use code, the minimum lot size is 10 acres for a new home and accessory unit in the Dolores Valley. The regulations also require the structures to be set back at least 100 feet from the river to allow for river flooding. Outside the Dolores River Valley, the minimum lot size in the county is 3 acres.
A proposal in the 19000 block of Colorado Highway 145 to build a home on 8 acres within 100 feet of the river was granted the variances with a 2-1 vote. Commissioners Keenan Ertel and Larry Don Suckla voted for the exemptions, and Commissioner Jim Candelaria voted against them.
The home’s septic system would be an engineered, closed system, per regulations, and be located away from the river, said county planning director Don Haley.
A floodplain permit for the potential building site on the highway side was granted by the county Department of Natural Resources. The permit identifies the necessary building elevation to minimize flood plain hazards.
Officials noted there was more room on the other side of the river that would allow for the 100-foot setback. A property representative said that site is not desirable because it has a much lower flood plain elevation, and a bridge would need to be built across the river.
Suckla said it was “common sense” to allow a building site on the property owners’ preferred site along Colorado 145 with the higher elevation.
He said under the current rules, if the county required the owner to build in the more exposed flood plain across the river, it would be an “endangerment” for the owner and downstream compared with the granted variances.
The commissioners were critical of the 100-foot river setback, and said lowering the 10-acre minimum needs discussion as well.
Candelaria said parts of the land use code are “too restrictive,” but he urged those parts be changed through a land use code revision process, rather than through variances.
“There is a list of things that need to be changed,” he said. “When there is a variance for this and that, I don’t like it and do not think it is right. If we need to update it, let’s go through the process.”
Substantial changes to the land use code require review by the planning and zoning board and a public hearing. Haley said commissioners could begin the process by sending the planning board a letter outlining their recommended changes.