OURAY COUNTY – After 12 hours of testimony spread out over three evenings over the past week, the verbal public comment portion of a public hearing on proposed revisions to Visual Impact Regulations in Ouray County’s Land Use Code, Section 9 came to a close at 10 p.m. Tuesday evening, with no decision yet in sight.
The Ouray County Commissioners will continue to accept written comments for one more week, until Tuesday, Aug. 20, at 5 p.m. Any comments made will become part of the record which commissioners will consider as they begin deliberating on the matter on Tuesday, Sept. 24, at 1:30 p.m.
Hundreds attended and dozens spoke at the three evenings of testimony at the Ouray County 4-H Event Center. Commissioners gave everyone who wished to speak on the matter a chance to do so. The sessions also included detailed information from county staff about the nature of the proposed changes to the visual impact regulations, and the potential impacts these revisions could have.
The proposed revisions 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.
Community members who spoke at the hearing were fairly evenly divided into two camps – those who favor adopting the revisions as a way to further protect Ouray County’s scenic view corridors, and those who argue that the current regulations are fine as-is, and that the proposed revisions are rife with unintended consequences, and threaten private property rights.
As they enter into the deliberation phase, county commissioners will have a variety of options before them, ranging from adopting the revisions as recommended, to throwing them out altogether and sticking with the current regs, to overhauling the proposed revisions and passing them back to the County Planning Commission for further deliberation.
Look for more coverage of the VIR Section 9 public hearing in The Watch next week.
A TAXING QUESTION...
The Ouray Board of County Commissioners held a work session with representatives from the Town of Ridgway and the City of Ouray on Tuesday, Aug. 13, to discuss a proposed county-wide 1 percent sales tax hike to fund emergency services, which county officials would like to put on the ballot this November.
County officials, who are struggling to make ends meet in an era of increasing costs and declining revenues stemming from lower property values, made a strong case for why the new revenue stream is necessary, and why a sales tax hike is the best means to go about achieving it. But the municipalities were less than enthusiastic at the prospect.
Ridgway residents will vote in November on a bond issue to fund the new Streetscape project, and Ridgway Town Manager Jen Coates worried that the more tax increase questions are on the ballot, the more likely they all are to fail.
Ouray city officials, meanwhile, pointed out that they are struggling with their own revenue shortfall. Sales tax revenues, which make up over half of the city’s revenue stream, have been relatively flat, and the city, too, has suffered a dip in property tax revenues in the wake of the recession. Ouray voters have twice voted in the past decade against “de-Brucing” (getting out from under certain provisions of the TABOR Amendment) to free up additional property tax revenues, and city officials argued that if the county bumps up its sales tax by 1 percent, it would take away the city’s ability to do its own sales tax increase in the future.
An hour or so of back-and-forth discussion revealed that everyone is in the same boat, and facing the same budgetary challenges. However, in the end, there was no agreement on a set course of action. Final ballot language will be determined at the BOCC’s next regular meeting, in time for the Sept. 6 deadline.
MATCHING FUNDS FOR GRANDSTANDS
The Ouray County Commissioners agreed on Tuesday to a Matching Funds Commitment of up to $38,000 (cash and in-kind), should the county succeed in winning a $350,000 Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant to help fund the Ouray County Fairgrounds Grandstands Replacement Project, Phase I. County Administrator Connie Hunt is preparing the grant, which must be submitted by Aug. 28. The county will pursue grants from other foundations to cover the remainder of the cost of the $602,807 project.
Fairgrounds Manager Susan Long is currently collecting letters of support from community members for the grant, and is heading up additional fundraising efforts for the project. The current grandstands date back to World War II have deteriorated over the years to the point where they have become unsafe. They have been temporarily modified to allow for use during the upcoming Ouray County Labor Day Fair and Rodeo.
EXTENDED MORATORIUM ON MARIJUANA CULTIVATION
The Ouray County Commissioners held a special meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 14, to adopt in first reading an ordinance prohibiting the operation of marijuana cultivation facilities, marijuana testing facilities, or retail marijuana stores in unincorporated Ouray County.
The ordinance sunsets in Oct. 2014, and stems from the desire of the county not to become a “test case” (i.e. one of the first counties to design its own taxing and licensing process), putting the county in conflict with federal law.
The moratorium does not apply to Ouray County’s existing marijuana grow facility, associated with the Acme Healing Centers, which is grandfathered in under existing medical marijuana laws.
Wednesday’s special meeting was necessary in order to comply with public notice requirements while meeting a timeline to get the ordinance fully adopted before Oct. 1, the deadline for local jurisdictions to make a decision regarding whether they will permit or prohibit marijuana facilities. Opportunity for full public discussion of the ordinance can take in second reading at the commissioners’ Aug. 27 meeting.
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