After recommending approval for a Kinder Morgan carbon dioxide well and a rezoning request for the Empire Electric Association, the Montezuma County planning commission had an in-depth discussion on a variety of local development issues Thursday.
Planning director LeeAnn Milligan said the county’s comprehensive plan and land use code are outdated and need to be updated.
The comprehensive plan is an overarching document outlining overall county goals. The land use code has the policies and regulations that govern specific county development.
“I’m hesitant to amend the land use code until a new comp plan is put in place because it’s the guiding force for what should be in the code,” Milligan said. “A lot has changed since the last comp plan was formed in 1996. It needs a new vision.”
Some of the updates for the comprehensive plan discussed include a county recreation section, a mineral resource section, a policy on federal lands co-governance, and a section on renewable energy such as solar, bio char, hydro and wind.
The land use code could then be updated all at once to reflect the county’s new long-term vision, Milligan said. Some regulations need to be changed to comply with state laws, or are in need of upgrades, for example, the county is still operating off of the 1997 Uniform Building Code. Proposed changes to both documents would go through a public review and comment process.
During the planning meeting’s public comment period, Ellen Foster brought up the apparent contradiction between the county’s noise standards and state noise standards they are supposed to comply with.
According to county regulations, the noise limit in the day from the property boundary must be less than 70 decibels, and no more than 55 decibels at night “as established by Colorado Revised Statute 25-12-101.”
However, according to that state statute, the noise limit in the day is 55 decibels, and 50 decibels at night for residential. For commercial properties, the state limit is 60 decibels in the day, and 55 decibels at night, and for light industrial properties, it is 70 decibels in the day, and 65 decibels at night.
“The county noise language is confusing for the public, and I recommend new noise thresholds because they are not in line with state regulations,” Foster said.
The planning commission also discussed appropriate setbacks along the Dolores River and variances.
Currently, there is a 100-foot setback requirement from the river for any structure, with agricultural facilities exempt. However, the county is open to variances to the setback requirement if structures are engineered to handle floodwaters, such as proper height and venting to allow high water to flow through.
The planning commissioners all said they support keeping the 100-foot setback requirement in place and allowing for county-approved variances to go closer to the river if structural-engineering mitigation measures are done to handle flood waters.
Commissioner Rob Pope said the Dolores River setback variances allow for flexibility, because each situation is different and should be handled on a case-by-case basis.
“As long as they go through the process of obtaining a variance, and getting the proper engineering and reviews, then I’m OK with it,” he said. “But there should be much tougher consequences, a hefty fine, if people try and to go around the official process because that is cheating.”
Planning commissioner Mike Rosso agreed.
“If the fine is too low, they will just build it anyway they want, and pay the fine,” he said.
Commissioner Bob Clayton said the purpose of the setback and engineered-upgrades process for variances is to prevent structures from coming loose in a flood situation, causing downstream hazards.
Milligan said there is a general concern that county landowners will build in violation of the land-use code, which causes problems later and sets a bad precedent.
The county does not have a code compliance officer, but maybe it should be considered, planning board members said.
“We have been aggressive, and will take people to court for code violations,” Milligan said.