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Land use forum: Lessons learned from our neighbors

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There was good attendance for the second community land use forum Wednesday, March 13, at 6 p.m., at the Grand Mesa Arts Center in Cedaredge. The theme of the second forum was "Lessons Learned from our Neighbors."

Neighbors forming the discussion panel were Nathan Lindquist, planning director, City of Rifle; Steve Wright, planning and development director of Montrose County; and Greg Moberg, principal planner for Mesa County.

Elyse Casselberry, county community and economic development director, facilitated the discussion.

Lindquist said there is a limited amount of land in the City of Rifle and its primary uses are residential, commercial and business.

Each use impacts the quality of the daily lives of neighboring landowners involved in other uses. Considerable thought needs to be given in developing land use regulations to consider how uses affect other landowners' uses.

Wright said neighbors have strong feelings about property rights; it's okay for government to regulate my neighbor, but not me. Land use regulations must address how the use of all land produces the least impact on all that land's neighbors.

Moberg said land use in counties should go right up to the city limits, with no feathering.

He said some parts of Mesa County look like cities.

"I see a sleeper right here in Delta County," he said, "You feed both Montrose and Mesa counties."

Casselberry asked specific questions of the panel about land use -- first, about specific tools the panel found helpful in their toolbox.

Lindquist cited conditional use permits, to be used as a conditional right in grey areas where the use would not be permitted otherwise.

Wright referred to the sign code and the zoning code. In the sign code he uses a special use permit for unique uses such as a church or a gravel pit.

Montrose County is transitioning and slowly implementing use-by-right, such as bed and breakfast for vacation rentals. He said the application and permit should have simple guidelines.

Moberg advised being especially cautious using consultants, who will urge using the latest "flavor of the month." He finds zoning to be an important tool. Zoning sets the standard for the use of the land. He advised not getting wrapped up in PUD (Planned Use Development).

Casselberry asked which tool the panel used the most.

Wright said the building code and the zoning code. There are very few rezonings when the zoning code is applied. Zoning for hemp facilities is becoming frequent.

Lindquist finds setbacks helpful. If the setback for the house is 20 feet, when the homeowner decides to build a driveway, the setback is already established.

Moberg chose administrative approval. With site plans and subdivision rezoning, you can trim four to six weeks off the process with administrative approval. "Hire talented folks," he advised.

Casselberry asked the neighbor planners what standards they would follow if they were starting over from scratch to develop land use regulations.

Moberg said he would be flexible, consider "should" and "may" to help staff as they work with applicants. He would go through and cull all the junk and get to the basic use. Keep it simple, succinct and small. Be sure to have the county attorney look at it at the very end to check statutory regulations.

Wright said he would keep it simple and get the feel for what the county wants. Define farming as a right. In preserving farmland, for example, if a farm consists of nine acres, carve out three one-acre sites for houses and preserve the rest for farming land.

Lindquist said Rifle had good regulations and codes during the oil shale boom in the 1980s and the community benefited from that. He advised thinking of the long term and planning for a high quality of life for the community.

An audience member asked about tools for enforcement of land use codes.

Lindquist said just stand your ground through the transition period with new tools and remember the benefits of the code. "If you want to put it in, make sure you have the resources to enforce the code -- take it out of the code or enforce the code," he said.

Wright said the enforcement side of the code is hard. It's a matter of give-and-take; easy on me/rough on the other. Work for a delicate balance.

Moberg advised listening to the landowners' stories, empathizing sincerely, and educating them a little bit. If it is a hardship, try to help them.

The next community land use forum will address "How do we come together and deal with this difficult subject?" and will be held in Paonia on April 4, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

A podcast that covers the county's land use regulation process, including topics covered in the first and second forums, can be found on most podcast platforms. Simply search "Delta County" on your favorite platform.

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