Sue Husch of the County Road 12 group addresses the BOCC public hearing on proposed visual impact regulations amendments in the 4-H building on Aug. 7. Plaindealer photo by Bill Tiedje
By Bill Tiedje
Concerned residents and business owners made passionate arguments for and against proposed amendments to Visual Impact Regulations in Section 9 of the Ouray County Land Use Code before a full room in the 4-H building on Aug. 7.
Several supporters of the proposed amendments focused their comments on the need to protect the scenic beauty of Ouray County and urged the Board of County Commissioners to accept the amendments without compromise. The Ouray County Planning Commission sent the proposal to the BOCC in March, after a public hearing.
For the most part, county commissioners Mike Fedel, Lynn Padgett and Don Batchelder listened to public comments and occasionally asked questions to clarify some of the remarks.
Anne Devine, resident of Ridgway and Pleasant Valley, urged the BOCC to support the proposed VIR amendments in order to protect Ouray County's "incomparable scenic value" and create a model of thoughtful development for other communities. Devine described the VIRs as one of many sacrifices made to live and enjoy the natural beauty of Ouray County.
Many opponents felt the amendments were far too much of a physical and financial burden on homeowners and expressed concern for private property rights as well as the inability to determine legal effects of the proposed VIR amendments.
Ridgway business owner and resident Susan Maybach felt the proposed VIR regulations were no longer needed, as fears of a development boom in the 1990s has subsided during the recession and now new construction is in need of encouragement. Maybach asked, "Is it really such a visual blight to see that others actually live here?"
Differing perspectives and conclusions on a few key provisions in the proposed amendments to the VIR were illuminated by many speakers' presentations, including the ability to rebuild following a fire or other catastrophic event or refinance if a house were deemed non-conforming under the proposed VIR amendments, as well as the impact on agricultural properties.
Donna Whiskeman of ReMAX Cimarron Realty, LLC highlighted this point of contention in her presentation, citing homeowners' need to comply with the land use code when rebuilding and the necessity for homeowners to disclose non-conforming structures on a seller's property disclosure.
Whiskeman introduced Wil Harmsen of Cornerstone Home Lending, Inc. who stated that homeowners' failure to disclose non-conforming structures would amount to fraud. Harmsen also stated that non-conforming structures under the proposed VIR amendments would be ineligble for federal home loans.
Whiskeman indicated that ReMAX Cimarron Realty would begin revisiting sellers' disclosures under the current VIR to confirm that any non-conforming structures under the current code, amended in 1997, were properly disclosed.
Dudley Case, chair of the Committee to Respect Ouray County, questioned why potentially non-conforming structures under the proposed VIR, despite being grandfathered in, would need to be listed on a seller's disclosure form when other non-conforming, but grandfathered in, structures built before amendments to other building codes were not typically disclosed on these forms.
The grandfathering-in of existing homes, deemed non-conforming under the proposed VIR amendments, was also a concern cited by Elizabeth Riggs of Dallas Meadows, who requested greater clarification on the subject.
The issue of agricultural exemptions was first discussed by Sue Husch of the County Road 12 Group, who questioned agricultural producers' opposition to the proposed VIR amendments when agriculture was exempt except on ridgelines and escarpments.
Case echoed Husch's comments regarding the agricultural exemption but added, "Once subdividing occurs, ranchers should be treated like everyone else."
Rancher Ralph Walchle said he resented other presenters' distortions and misrepresentations of the facts on this issue. Walchle remarked, "Agriculture isn't exempt from everything."
Waschle presented the BOCC a letter in opposition to the proposed VIR amendments signed by several ranchers and Ouray County residents who in total own roughly 35,000 acres in Ouray County.
Rich Weber of the Weber Ranch also voiced his opposition. "The rules are working fine, we don't need more regulations," Weber stated.
Architect Doug MacFarlane of the Ad Hoc Committee (architects, designers and builders) suggested the BOCC consider minor incremental changes to the VIR; but he did not feel that the proposed VIR amendments would satisfy skyline and blending issues, nor were the additional new corridors needed. MacFarlane also indicated that although the Ad Hoc Committee participated in the Ouray County Planning Commission's deliberations, their comments were limited and often heard after the PC had already made decisions.
Resident Mary Ann Jackson suggested the proposed VIR amendments created unintended consequences, including lack of consideration for wildfires or neighbors' views. Jackson suggested the screening amendments including natural and planted vegetation might conflict with the defensible space recommendations needed to mitigate wildfire risk. Jackson also questioned why the regulations focused solely on views from roads instead of neighbors' views. Jackson felt the decrease in homeowners' discretion in home placement might force them to block neighbors' views.
County Planner Mark Castrodale began the hearing with a brief history and description of the proposed changes before the public comment portion of the meeting began.
Castrodale said the proposed amendments would add VIRs to 31 additional roads consisting of approximately 101 miles.
Castrodale stated county staff estimated the potential for 80 to 100 non-conforming structures based on their analysis of satellite imagery. Castrodale indicated this estimate could include agricultural and historically accurate structures that may be exempt from the proposed VIR amendments, as it was impossible to distinguish these characteristics using satellite imagery.
Other changes in the proposed VIR amendments outlined by Castrodale included new definitions of blending, the use of a weighted average in determining building height, added points for natural screening, an increase in the allowed amount of skyline break, the exclusion of non-visible portions of a structure size considerations and reworking of the points system.
Castrodale also said the proposed VIR amendments added provisions regarding Alternative Energy Structures and added VIR to agricultural structures on a ridgeline, bench or escarpment.
County Attorney Marti Whitmore explained the BOCC had several options for action during deliberation following the public hearing, including choosing to deliberate immediately or continuing at another date.
Whitmore also stated the BOCC could choose to adopt or reject the VIR amendments as proposed by the Planning Commission, modify portions of the VIR amendments with specific language in a motion, ask staff for more revisions based on guidance or send back to the Planning Commission for extensive changes.
The public hearing will resume at the 4-H building at 6:00 p.m. on Aug. 8. Plaindealer staff will tweet live updates on Twitter.com, @ocplaindealer.