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Commissioners approve revisions to land use regulations


At June 4 and June 18 meetings, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) approved changes to the county’s land use regulations (LUR) concerning outdoor storage, neighborhood meetings, and short-term rental (STR) permitting and regulations.

Over the two meetings, the discussion stretched to slightly less than five hours, with the commissioners reviewing and considering each separate element of the LUR changes, ranging in size from short paragraphs to individual sentences or parts of sentences, separately.

On May 21, Interim County Manager Jack Harper proposed creating lists of changes, polling the commissioners individually on their opinions of the changes and then discussing items where the commissioners disagreed. At that meeting, the BoCC ultimately approved regulations relating to signs, but was unable to move forward on other LUR changes.

Harper suggested that this approach would allow the commissioners to quickly eliminate noncontroversial changes and focus the discussion on changes where there was disagreement among the commissioners.

However, only a few items on the list of more than 150 changes were able to gain support from all three commissioners through polling and receive rapid approval.

At the June 4 meeting, Commissioner Warren Brown stated that he had not entered opinions on a portion of the outdoor storage regulations that were discussed at that meeting since he had not expected them to be discussed, while Commissioner Ronnie Maez indicated that he had requested further conversation and clarification on all items in certain sections, even those that he later agreed to move forward with without further discussion.

At the June 18 meeting, which primarily covered STR permitting and regulations, Maez did not enter opinions on the items up for consideration, requiring the BoCC to consider and poll the commissioners on each item.

Following discussion and informal decisions on each item, the BoCC formally approved changes through motions to approve or disapprove certain lists of changes at each meeting.

At the two meetings, the BoCC heard four public comments on the items.

Three expressed objections to the STR permitting and regulations and questioned why the county is invested in continuing to expand and rework regulations for STRs. One praised the commissioners for their thorough consideration of potential LUR changes related to STRs.

At the June 4 meeting, the BoCC considered regulations requiring neighborhood meetings between developers and neighbors of a project prior to a formal application for certain types of development projects.

Maez and Commissioner Veronica Medina expressed objections to requiring neighborhood meetings, stating it would add unnecessary bureaucracy and that neighbor concerns are addressed through the county land use review process.

Development Director Pamela Flowers stated that the intent of requiring neighborhood meetings is to gather neighbor concerns earlier in the process and allow county staff more time to assess them in addition to potentially giving developers opportunities to work with their neighbors and alter their projects to address concerns.

Ultimately, Maez and Medina voted to make neighborhood meetings optional, with Brown voting to make them required.

Following this vote, the BoCC approved the guidelines for neighborhood meetings, with commissioners commenting that these guidelines would be useful for outlining how such meetings would work if a developer opts to hold one.

The BoCC then considered changes to outdoor storage regulations.

Following debate and discussion, the board voted to pass the storage regulations with amendments to make them less restrictive than what the county planning commission approved, which was less restrictive than the regulations the county previously had.

Brown generally expressed support for the regulations that the planning commission approved, while Maez and Medina advocated for less regulation.

Among the changes to outdoor storage in the newly approved regulations are an elimination of restrictions on the storage of personal vehicles, such as recreational vehicles, on area properties, and expansions of the amount and types of commercial equipment that can be stored on properties, including in the residential and agricultural estates zoning districts.

The changes also reduced the amount of screening that is required for commercial vehicles from what was included in the previous regulations.

At the June 18 meeting, the BoCC moved on to consider changes to STR regulations.

The regulations the commissioners approved were largely similar to those approved by the planning commission at its Jan. 24 meeting, though with a few changes.

The commissioners voted to eliminate the requirement for STRs to submit parking plans as part of the application process and to remove regulations concerning the size of beds allowed in bedrooms of certain sizes in STRs.

Maez and Medina also voted to eliminate a proposed requirement that STRs have noise monitors to help substantiate noise complaints, which Brown voted in support of.

The meeting featured debate and discussion of a set of regulations intended to outline critical and operational violations for STRs and implement mechanisms that would allow the county to fine and potentially revoke permits for STRs where violations of county ordinances or the LUR occur and are not corrected.

The proposed system also introduces periods where those whose permit is revoked or whose permit application is denied cannot reapply for a permit.

Flowers explained that the system would allow the county to not spend staff time repeatedly rejecting permit applications from STRs whose permit applications have already been denied or whose permit has been revoked.

She also stated that the three-strike system for operational violations — including noise violations, illegal burning or parking violations — would allow for the revocation of an STR permit if an STR has three violations in a given year that are not addressed by the owner or property manager.

Flowers explained that this system would allow the county to impose consequences on STR owners and property managers for their poor responsiveness to improper behavior from their guests, something which cannot be addressed by other county ordinances or criminal codes that only allow for action against the person violating the ordinance or law.

She stated that this is typically the guest and not the owner or manager.

The commissioners repeatedly expressed confusion about the purpose and intent of these regulations, questioning if operational violations should be covered by other county ordinances instead of in the LUR and commenting that the STR regulations already contain elements that would allow the county to impose consequences on property owners for the actions of their guests and their responsiveness to addressing the consequences of these actions.

Flowers explained that other county ordinances only allow fines or other penalties to be imposed on the guests committing the violations and not the property owners or managers.

She added that this section of the regulations is the section that would allow the county to impose consequences on property owners and managers and that it would not be possible without this section of the regulations.

During an effort to explain how these elements of the regulations function, County Attorney Todd Weaver expressed frustration, commenting that the commissioners requested more regulations and ways to hold property owners and managers accountable, but were now considered depriving staff of the tools to execute their requests.

He added that such actions place staff in a difficult position.

Following additional discussion, the commissioners unanimously agreed to move forward with the proposed structure for STR violations, penalties and permit revocations with only minimal changes.

The board then briefly debated the need to include definitions in the LUR of some of the terms used in the new regulations, which Weaver commented would be valuable for the county in defending the regulations in court and for the public to understand the overall scope of the terms being used.

After a discussion, the board agreed to approve the definitions presented.