The VIR brouhaha has consumed many Ouray County residents, with crowds of up to 200 people packing into various public hearings over the past three years to make their voices heard.
The current hearing, initiated over three evenings at the 4-H Event Center in August, exposed a profound rift between those who want the county to adopt proposed revisions protecting property values and scenic view corridors and those who argue that the current regulations are fine, and that the revisions developed over the past two-and-a-half years by the Ouray County Planning Commission are rife with unintended consequences and threaten private property rights.
Both sides accused the other of elitism, fear tactics and misrepresenting and distorting the facts.
The public comment portion of the hearing concluded in August. Now, the Ouray County
Commissioners await Wednesday, Nov. 6, when they reconvene at 6 p.m. at the Ouray County 4-H Center to deliberate and possibly decide whether or not to adopt the proposed revisions.
Clerk of the Board Linda Munson Haley has spent countless hours over the past two months preparing the 1,000-page record of August’s testimony, which the commissioners will consider when they deliberate next week. The record is currently posted on the Ouray County website, ouraycountyco.gov, and available in a public binder at the Ouray County Courthouse.
The Section 9 revision was mandated in November 2010, when the BOCC issued a resolution directing the county planning commission to review and consider proposed revisions to Section 9 of the county’s Land Use Code that deal specifically with visual impact regulations.
That resolution called on the planning commission to analyze 12 items set forth by the BOCC, from evaluating the current point system for developers, to revisiting setbacks and remodels and the treatment of historically accurate buildings, to designating more county roads as visual impact corridors.
The county planning commission chipped away at this task for two-and-a-half years, finally releasing a draft document spelling out proposed amendments to Section 9 in early 2013.
Perhaps the most divisive proposed change to Section 9 was the expansion of visual impact corridors to include 47 more roads throughout the county that have the same characteristics as the nine roads originally 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.
Other issues of concern, aired throughout the course of August’s testimony, centered around 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 may affect the ability to acquire homeowners’ insurance; and current conflicts between Section 9 and Section 4 of the Land Use Code.
These are just a few of the issues with which commissioners must grapple, as they reconvene for deliberation next week.
Reached for a phone interview on Tuesday, Oct. 29, BOCC Chair Mike Fedel said he is still thinking about how to structure the upcoming hearing continuation. “We will open it, and we will deliberate,” he said. “I have been thinking about this, and do not have a clue how things will unfold. Obviously, we have done a lot of public hearings, but not like this one. The stakes are high, and the topic is very, very broad.”
All three commissioners have been ploughing through the 1,000-page record, which includes numerous exhibits as well as public testimony. “There is a lot of information in there,” Fedel said. “This is going in so many different directions, and there are so many elements involved. Who knows what the outcome will be. I don’t even have a prediction. I would love to have the answer, but I don’t.”
The commissioners will have a number of options as they enter the deliberation process. As spelled out by County Attorney Marti Whitmore in August, 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 Nov. 6.
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.”
Commissioner Don Batchelder anticipated that it may take more than one evening of deliberation to completely resolve the matter. “If it is accepted in its entirety or rejected in its entirety, there is a good chance of resolution in one meeting,” he said. “If bits and pieces are accepted and rejected, and there is discussion about how to go ahead and implement those changes, that could very possibly take more than one meeting.”
Commissioner Lynn Padgett said that she has been “trying to stay neutral, and looking at things from all angles and all sides,” in her preparations for next week’s hearing.
“Technically, the challenge will be thoroughly discussing the matter, and hopefully coming to an information-based decision,” she said. “I imagine there will be some rhetoric coming out of whatever the board ends up deciding – that people will perceive they weren’t listened to. But no matter what we decide in the end, hopefully we will find a consensus that is workable.”