Issue Continues to Bitterly Divide Community
OURAY COUNTY – Ripple effects are still being felt in the community and on editorial pages of local newspapers (including The Watch) from a public hearing on proposed revisions to Visual Impact Regulations in Ouray County’s Land Use Code, Section 9.
The hearing, conducted over three evenings at the 4-H Event Center on Aug. 7, 8 and 13, exposed a profound rift in the community between those who would like to see the revised regulations adopted, and those who are adamantly opposed.
Now that public comment portion of the hearing has concluded, Ouray County Commissioners await the date of Tuesday, Sept. 24, when they will reconvene the hearing to deliberate and possibly make a decision regarding the revised regulations, which have been developed over the past two and a half years by the Ouray County Planning Commission.
Perhaps the most divisive proposed amendment to Section 9 is the expansion of visual impact corridors to include over 30 more roads throughout the county that have the same characteristics as the nine roads designated as view corridors in the existing regulations. All structures visible within 1.5 miles, measured on a two-dimensional map, are subject to the impact and mitigation criteria of Section 9. The new draft also includes revisions to the so-called points standard which each new structure within the view corridor must meet, and includes new guidelines about blending, setbacks, skyline breakage, and building on hillsides, ridges and escarpments, among other things.
The commissioners will have a number of options as they enter the deliberation process. As spelled out by County Attorney Marti Whitmore, they can adopt the regulations as proposed by the planning commission; reject the revisions as proposed; elect to modify the regulations with very specific language and revisions incorporated into a motion; ask staff to do more extensive revisions based on the commissioners’ guidance; ask for very specific revisions of a more minor nature which could be addressed at the continued hearing date on Sept. 24. If the revisions are fairly extensive, the board could even ask staff to do a rewrite and send the whole thing back to the planning commission again.
In short, Whitmore said, “The BOCC has a great deal of discretion, and there are a range of actions they can take.”
The commissioners must clarify and resolve a number of issues raised through the public hearing process, as they enter the deliberation phase. Some of these issues include:
• The difference between nonconforming use and nonconforming structure;
• Disclosure requirements for realtors if a structure or use is nonconforming;
• How to address homes that are in multiple view corridors, should the revisions be adopted;
• Whether a nonconforming home destroyed by fire or other catastrophic event could be rebuilt in its original form, and how this question may affect the ability to acquire homeowners’ insurance;
• A proposal to make three of the county’s oldest subdivisions (Idlewild, Dallas Meadows and Panoramic Heights) exempt from the VIRs;
• The issue of liability for Home Owners Associations, and whether, under the proposed revisions, HOAs would be responsible for approving new building plans to make sure they passed muster with the revised VIRs;
• Current conflicts between Section 9 and Section 4 of the Land Use Code, in regard to whether a structure which is nonconforming can be expanded or enlarged without bringing the structure into full compliance with the Land Use Code.
The dozens of community members who spoke at the hearing were fairly evenly divided into two camps – those who favored adopting the revisions as a way to further protect property values and Ouray County’s scenic view corridors, and those who argued that the current regulations are fine as-is, and that the proposed revisions are rife with unintended consequences, and threaten private property rights.
Three major factions emerged through the 12 hours of testimony, which could be very roughly categorized as “ROCC [the progressive Ridgway-Ouray Community Council], Ranchers and Realtors”, with the latter two united in their opposition to the proposed changes to the VIRs.
A troika of attorneys from the Tisdel Law Firm also argued against the revised VIRs, warning of the financial impact to both the county and property owners if the revisions are adopted.
By the end of the second night of testimony, as arguments for and against the revisions mounted, several speakers were echoing a recurring theme: “Let county residents vote on whether or not the regs should be implemented.”
Advocates of the proposed revisions questioned why members of the ranching and mining community would oppose the regulations, pointing out that mining and ag structures are exempt from the VIRs. Ranchers and miners, meanwhile, pointed out that not all of their structures would be exempt.
The biggest applause of the three evenings of testimony, by far, went to Richard Weber III, a twenty-something member of a historic Ridgway ranching family. “As a rancher, simple is always better,” Weber said, “but with these new regs, it’s not one simple thing. It almost takes a rocket scientist to understand it all.”
Both sides accused each other of elitism, fear tactics, and misrepresenting and distorting the facts. Most, however, respected County Commissioner Chair Mike Fedel’s instruction, intoned at the outset of each night of the public hearing: “Politeness to all is requested.”
One community member even described the proceedings as “a thrilling display of democracy in action.”
By the end of the third night, however, tension had built to the point where at least one opponent to the VIR revisions muttering an audible “shut up” as a woman who supported the regulations took the floor.
“I am disheartened by the divisiveness and contention that has arisen over these revisions to Section 9,” Ridgway resident Robyn Cascade said, choking back tears. “They do not support or sustain a healthy community.”
Now, it is up to the Board of County Commissioners to make sense of it all, and decide what is best for the community.
What They Said:
“It’s difficult to understand the opposition to the proposal. The revision will reserve open space appearance and help ranchers maintain their lifestyle.” – Sue Hush, speaking for the County Road 12 group
“Clarify, be visionary and courageous. Adopt the revisions in their entirety.” – Roze Evans
“All regulations are complicated. It’s the price we pay in order to get a system of laws that is fair and enforceable... Reasonable regulatory oversight is important to maintaining the beauty of our county.” – Paula James
“Predictions of doom and gloom didn’t happen last time [Ouray County adopted VIRs] and they won’t happen this time for the exact same reason.” – Michael Cassidy
“What happens without regulation? A big ugly house on the road.” – Dudley Case, Committee to Respect Ouray County
“This lot would now be unbuildable unless you dug a hole.” – Judi Snelling
“One thing that gets lost in the emotional discussion is that our county has a number of tools that shape the way development takes place; we have a master plan that allows certain uses in certain zones.” – Doug McFarlane, Ad Hoc Committee
“Any time you add more layers of regulations, you are going to get more cost.” – Ken Garard
“You guys need to screen out the trash from the truth.” – Ralph Walchle
“You may think you have a house that is well screened, but in three to five years your trees may be dead. It’s starting to happen. If you want to worry about the beauty of the county, go cut down some beetle kill trees.” – Charles Mueller
“This is playing right into the globalist agenda. They are clamping down more and more controls on us.” – Richard Skoumal