OURAY COUNTY – The ongoing debate over Visual Impact Regulations shifted into a new phase on Tuesday this week, as the Ouray Board of County Commissioners held a two-hour work session to discuss how to move forward with revising Section 9 of the county’s Land Use Code.
The work session came on the heels of a lengthy and contentious public hearing that began last August, and concluded in November, regarding the Ouray County Planning Commission’s proposed revisions to Section 9.
After fielding hundreds of oral and written comments from the public, both supporting and opposing the proposed revisions, commissioners unanimously voted on Nov. 6 not to adopt the revisions. Instead, they directed the county’s land use staff to take a “first stab” at revising the planning commission’s draft document to reflect further changes the commissioners had discussed, before bringing the document back to the board for further work sessions.
County Land Use Planner Mark Castrodale and his staff spent much of the past two-plus months combing through notes from the commissioners’ Nov. 6 discussion, identifying places where staff had been given specific direction by commissioners regarding changes to the draft.
On Tuesday, Castrodale presented the commissioners with the resulting “guidance document,” which included 20 specific points “where there seemed to be consensus or at least no disagreement” about changes that needed to be made, he said.
Among the items cut, at least for now, was the planning commission’s recommendation to dramatically expand the numbers of roads in the county that should be considered view corridors, and thus subject to Visual Impact Regulations.
Castrodale’s guidance document also drops the terms “bench, ridge and hill” from the code completely, sticking with the term “escarpment”, and removes “Alternative Energy Structures” from the parameters of Section 9, moving it to its own section of the Land Use Code.
The document clarifies that VIR regulations apply only to structures that require a building permit, thus exempting most fences except those over six feet tall, and that VIR regs apply only to structures within the existing Visual Impact Corridors.
Other tweaks include an attempt to clarify “earth tone” and “blending,” and to clear up the ambiguity in the current code around ag exemptions, as well as clarifying that the 100-foot setback called for in proposed VIR revisions does not apply to historical subdivisions.
The guidance document also outlines a number of “things left outstanding,” that should eventually be incorporated in the revised code. This includes continued work to ensure there are no conflicts between Section 4 (which pertains to zoning in the county) and Section 9 (which pertains to VIRs); looking further into the skyline breakage issue; and a proposal that the county start charging a $175 fee for Visual Impact reviews for new homes and structures being built in the county’s Visual Impact corridors.
“It is something that costs us real staff time to do,” Castrodale said. “Quite honestly, in the financial condition we find ourselves in, it makes sense for us to charge a small fee to recoup our time and expenses.”
After quite a bit of discussion about Castrodale’s proposed changes, commissioners agreed to take some time to “digest” the guidance document, and scheduled a follow-up public hearing on Feb. 6 to start finalizing some aspects of the revision.
As Commission Chair Lynn Padgett put it, “We will come together and find low hanging fruit, minor tweaks we all agree on, while pulling out weightier items for later discussion.”
Padgett emphasized to the 15 or so members of the public who attended the work session that “we are looking at this staff-generated document as a starting point for renewed discussions that will not lose the good work that was done (by the planning commission) but instead move forward.”
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