OURAY COUNTY – Citizens packed the commissioner meeting room at the Ouray County Courthouse on Tuesday to weigh in on a second interim report from the Planning Commission about changes to visual impact regulations.
This most recent, and almost by definition, controversial, attempt to revise Section 9 of the Land Use Code has been ongoing for at least a year, and Commission Chair Ken Lipton was proud of the progress his volunteer board had made. (The revision was mandated by the BOCC in December last year.) But on Tuesday, he heard yet again from citizens distressed over the potential economic ramifications of the changes, particularly the addition of new county roads to the list of “visual impact corridors.”
“What if,” builder Tim Currin asked rhetorically, “the additional cost to a property owner meant he couldn’t build where the view is on his lot? Or couldn’t afford to build at all?”
Architect Doug Macfarlane said the regulations prohibiting new homes from “breaking the skyline” could “make lots tough to sell.”
Planning Commission Chair Ken Lipton countered that the PC is “very sensitive to these issues.” And he said the concerns are premature: “Unusual burdens [to homeowners] are being considered very carefully. We haven’t finalized ‘skyline’ yet, or the ‘point system,’ or the ‘narrative.’ We can’t write code [land use code] for one or two hardship cases.”
Earlier in the meeting, Lipton had summarized the changes being considered to the Land Use Code. The commission had decided, he said, to add a section on alternative energy structures, i.e., solar and wind collectors. The commission took a field trip on Sept. 20 to view already-existing structures, he reported, led by the Ridgway owners of Alternative Energy Systems. “We took a look at ground mounts, roof mounts and one wind-power structure,” Lipton said. “I also called the planner in Pitkin County to discuss their final alternative energy plan and incorporated some of their findings.”
It was the consensus of the PC, Lipton said, “to add alternative energy collectors to the visual impact regulations.” The biggest concern was glare from the solar panels. “Mitigation of glare,” he said, “will be the responsibility of the landowner.”
Solar farms, like the one proposed last year for Angel Ridge Ranch, were a separate issued, Lipton said. The commission felt that “neighborhood solar farms,” ones that are designed to provide power locally to a neighborhood, should be encouraged. Commercial solar farms would require a Special Use Permit and other stipulations.
Wind energy collectors, the commission felt, should be subject to the same skyline rules as any other structures. The towers should be limited to 35 feet, and should be painted a muted color to reduce or eliminate reflection.
Perhaps the biggest change to Section 9, everyone in the room knew, was the proposed addition of new visual impact corridors. Currently, a handful of county roads and Highways 550 and 62 are so designated. One of the reasons the BOCC ordered a new look at Section 9 was the “fairness” issue: If some regions of the county are subject to visual impact regulations, shouldn’t others be similarly regarded? Lipton said the consensus recommendation of the PC (by a 4-1 vote in most instances) was to add most numbered county roads to the list of visual impact corridors.
The next steps for the PC, according to Lipton, include finalizing the point system (in which builders are awarded points for blending, screening, setbacks, etc., in the service of minimizing visual impact); sitting down with the county staff and attorney to write actual Section 9 (code) language; holding a public hearing on the new regs (which “my best guess is we’ll be ready by April”); and finalizing the resolution for a BOCC vote.
BOCC Chair Heidi Albritton then asked to hear from the authors of two “minority reports.” Builder Currin’s primary objection was summarized in the question, “When will a study be done on the economic impact – the additional cost to property owners?”
To which Ouray resident Ben Tisdel responded: “Can we add to this interim report that enhancements to property values, as a result of visual impact regulations, more than balance the increased costs?”
Architect John Baskfield, who wrote the second minority report, said that while he strongly supported visual impact regulation, he would like to see “3D tools” in place, as well as GIS data and imaging, “so we can see what the impacts on certain parcels will be from certain corridors.” Albritton agreed to ask county staff to look into this.
In the end, Albritton requested “another update” from the planning commission, “before we go to code language.” She added her thanks to the volunteer commission for what has inevitably been difficult and contentious work. “It’s definitely a spectator sport,” she commiserated, having worked on visual impacts for most of her seven years on the BOCC. “I really feel for the players. But you’ve dived in. And really done a lot.”