Private property rights are at risk

By Ralph D'Alessandro


Dear Editor:

This is an alert to all Delta County property owners.

The county commissioners are attempting to gut the Specific Development Regulations (SDRs). This mostly secretive, top-down effort was recently presented to the local area planning commissions (APCs) and the Delta County Planning Commission (DCPC). The result is ill-conceived and potentially dangerous. The current SDRs were adopted because Delta County has no zoning and the purpose of the SDRs is to provide notice and an opportunity for neighboring property owners to protect their private property rights -- protect them from land uses known to create harmful impacts upon neighboring landowners and the environment, like oil and gas wells, gravel pits and hog farms. The commissioners' currently proposed changes, designed to make it easier to obtain county approval for these type of harmful land uses, were developed without input from the APCs and the DCPC. This approach flips planning on its head.

The county administration, urged on by special interests, asked the county GIS department to map the number of parcels where a 1,000-foot setback from adjoining residential structures would permit an unidentified development. When the number came back too low, the request was repeated with only a 500-foot setback. Apparently this secretive research was made to support animal feeding operations within the county at the behest of a special interest group. You guessed it, the proposed changes would allow an animal feeding operation within 500 feet of your house. Your neighbor who has at least 40 acres may be able to put in 10,000 hogs, 10,000 sheep, 55,000 turkeys or 125,000 chickens so long as the facility is located 500 feet from your home. The setback distance should have something to do with protecting neighbors and their private property rights, not designed to make more land available for animal feeders.

When questioned about the work allegedly being done on the SDR's, the county publicly stated that the consultant hired to do the work in the planning department was drafting changes and that an apparent proponent of the changes was calling the county weekly to ask about the progress. (In April, the DCI published the list of county expenditures that showed the consultant had received $10,550 in fees for the month of March.)

As mentioned, the draft document proposes to exempt from Specific Development Review any animal feeding operation anywhere in the county on a 40-acre parcel where there is the previously mentioned 500-foot setback from a neighbor's house. This anything-goes approach, if adopted, would devastate the real estate industry in the county and cause property values to plummet. Development compatibility with the neighborhood is deleted in the draft as a factor in approving a specific development permit. Apparently, the county wants harmful land uses to trump existing private property rights.

It's obvious that allowing these kind of land uses in the county without any measures to protect air and water quality, or evaluate the compatibility with existing neighborhoods, put county residents' health, safety and welfare at risk. When asked why the rush to have proposed changes accepted by the various planning commissions on an expedited basis, the planning consultant said that there was a new property owner in the county who was constructing animal feeding structures and had ordered his poultry to arrive in August. Who are the county commissioners working for here?

Several readers of the proposed SDRs have identified numerous problems, including vague terms and inconsistencies, in the proposed draft regulation changes. The language and the potential impact of all of the proposed changes need to be thoughtfully reviewed in an unhurried manner. Hopefully the planning commissions and the public will take the time necessary to thoroughly review these ill-conceived changes. I applaud the effort to improve Delta County's progress in these areas and perhaps now is the time to have meaningful public discussion about the Master Plan and zoning, but that should start with the planning commissions and not be presented as a document to receive rubber stamp approval.

Ralph D'Alessandro
Hotchkiss