In the Thick of Public Comment, No Decision on Visual Impact Regs.
by Gus Jarvis
Feb 28, 2013 | 1256 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
REAL ESTATE PERSPECTIVE – At Tuesday’s hearing Broker Donna Whiskeman warned of the unintended consequences that she said would be a reality if new visual impact regulations are passed in Ouray County. (Photo by Gus Jarvis)
REAL ESTATE PERSPECTIVE – At Tuesday’s hearing Broker Donna Whiskeman warned of the unintended consequences that she said would be a reality if new visual impact regulations are passed in Ouray County. (Photo by Gus Jarvis)

Tuesday’s Hearing Continued as Community Remains Divided

RIDGWAY – After more than three years of work on an issue that has sharply divided Ouray County residents, the three hours slated for Tuesday evening’s public hearing at the 4-H Event Center were not enough for the County Planning Commission to find consensus on proposed visual impact regulations.

In fact, the three hours were not enough to allow all members of the public wishing to comment on an amended draft of Section 9 of the county Land Use Code to do so. The hearing was ultimately continued to March 21 at 6 p.m.

Perhaps the most divisive amendment to Section 9 is the expansion of visual impact corridors to include more than 40 roads throughout the county. All structures visible within 1.5 miles, measured on a two-dimensional map, are subject to the impact and mitigation criteria of Section 9.

In the new draft as well as the existing regulations, each new structure within the view corridor must meet a points standard. The proposed draft allows a maximum of six points in its revised points system. For the size of the structure, one-tenth of a point will be added for every 100 square feet of building size, and three-tenths of a point will be added for every foot of weighted average height of the structure visible from the view corridor.

The draft also contains mitigation criteria points, which are subtracted from the structure points, when a project addresses screening, maximum distance from a road and apparent building mass as viewed from a viewing window. The draft contains new language pertaining to skyline breakage exemptions as well as a definition of “blending,” which includes materials, finishes and colors that integrate with the surrounding natural environment.

Public comment taken during the hearing was divided, with Planning Commission Chair Ken Lipton taking alternating comments from supporters and non-supporters of the draft. Each individual was given three minutes to speak.

Those who spoke out against the proposed draft tended to criticize no one particular aspect. Most were simply not in favor of any further regulations, and said that if the new regulations were ultimately approved, it would take away land owners’ rights to build on their land.

“It is about the loss of freedom,” Ralph Walchle said. “It’s being taken away from us bit by bit.”

Walchle said he has a piece of property that would be located within four county roads included in the new set of visual impact corridors. With his property at a crossroads of corridors, he said, it would be hard to build anything with a view.

“It is essentially impossible,” Walchle said. “It really does affect the value of the land.”

Donna Whiskeman, a broker with Cimarron Re/Max, offered comments “from a real estate point of view.” She cautioned the planning commission that imposing these new visual impact regulations will take away homeowners rights if their existing home is considered a nonconforming structure. Even though their homes would be grandfathered and exempted from the new Section 9, if an owner should decide to undertake a remodel or renovation, the grandfathering ends there.

“If you live on one of these county roads, you will be considered a nonconforming structure,” Whiskeman said. “If you have a fire that burns more than 50 percent of your home, to rebuild you will have to conform to Section 9. From a real estate standpoint, if your home is a nonconforming structure, [and you want to sell it] you have to disclose it as such. It’s a solution in search of a problem.”

Bob Larson, a consultant for Caldera Mineral Resources, which has plans to reopen the Camp Bird Mine, said the new Section 9 will impede CMR’s ability to effectively re-open certain aspects of the mine. He said it would also be detrimental to other mines opening in the region as well.

And while there were a large number who spoke out against the draft of Section 9, there were just about an equal number who spoke out in support of the amended regulations.

Jane Nash moved to Ouray County from Colorado’s Front Range after she retired. She said she and her husband moved to the area to stay away from the “congestion and over-development” found in places without good master plans.

“I would like to thank you for taking three years to seek input from all parts of the community in order to come up with this draft,” Nash said. “We are fortunate to live not only in the most scenic states but also the most beautiful parts of Colorado. I strongly recommend you submit them to the board of county commissioners.”

Others, like Jennifer Parker, believe the draft of Section 9 doesn’t go far enough.

“Consider including all county roads in this proposal,” Parker said. “This proposal certainly makes it easier to build [than under the existing code]. It seems absurd to me to oppose a regulation that eases the regulations of the first one.”

With approximately 15 residents still wishing to offer input on the matter, Lipton closed the meeting at 10 p.m. and continued it to Thursday, March 21 at 6 p.m. It will be held at the 4-H Event Center once again. Only those who were signed up to speak at Tuesday’s hearing will be allowed to comment at the March 21. Written public comment will be accepted by Ouray County Land Use staff until March 14.

Twitter: @Gus_Jarvis

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