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Commissioners hear development services update


At its March 19 work session, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) heard an update on the Building, Planning and Water Quality departments from Development Director Pamela Flowers.

Flowers opened her update by highlighting the grants that county development services obtained in the last year, including a grant supporting a waste tire pickup day that collected more than 1,000 waste tires, a $70,000 Stronger Communities grant for a housing assessment, and a $1.9 million More Housing Now grant for infrastructure in the Chris Mountain Village II and Trails subdivisions.

She added that Development Services staff conducted 565 short-term rental (STR) inspections, down 45 from 2022, and processed 122 nuisance ordinance violations, 12 building code violations and 31 zoning violations.

Flowers commented that the number of zoning violations rose by 21 from 2022 and that this was driven by corrections to how code enforcement classifies violations.

She also stated that code enforcement closed 543 cases in 2023 and code enforcement created a new webpage with assistance from other county staff.

Commissioner Veronica Medina asked why STR inspection numbers were down.

“I attribute that to the staff that we had in there before wasn’t doing their job,” Flowers said, adding that a significant backlog of STR permit applications accumulated and staff are now working through a backlog.

In 2024, Flowers stated that she hopes to advance grant-funded work on workforce housing and seek more grants.

She added that she wants to complete revisions to the sign regulations for the county and introduce definitions and rules for agritourism into the county land use regulations due to increased interest in the concept in the area.

Flowers stated the revisions to the nuisance ordinance are ongoing with the assistance of County Manager Derek Woodman.

She indicated that staff in code enforcement wish to refocus the department toward a more community-engagement-centered approach and that she will likely rename the positions connected to code enforcement to reflect this change in focus.

Commissioner Ronnie Maez commented that “a lot of” the direction for code enforcement should come from the commissioners since they are “really connected to the community.”

He added that code enforcement is too strict at the moment.

Flowers commented that the shift in direction for code enforcement is partially driven by feedback from the BoCC and that the change is intended to align code enforcement with the goals of the BoCC.

Maez stated that he does not believe that many of current regulations received extensive public comment when they were initially approved and reiterated his opposition to the present nuisance ordinance and other codes he stated are too strict.

In response to a question from Medina, Flowers stated that all the grants that development services obtained were completed in cooperation with the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation (PSCDC) and some also involved the Town of Pagosa Springs.

Flowers added that she is “learning” about the grants that are available and how to apply for them and that the workload is presently not “overwhelming,” particularly with the hiring of a planning manager to oversee the Planning Department.

She then moved on to the Building Department, commenting that the current staff are a “pretty good team” and that the phone tree for the department was updated, including the addition of a specific line for people requesting inspections, which she stated has reduced the amount of calls sent to the front desk.

Flowers indicated that the Building Department has also implemented new tiny home regulations the BoCC approved last year, although Flowers stated that issues with the state certification process are inhibiting licensing of tiny homes and the county may have to pursue a local licensing solution to allow the usage of tiny homes to expand.

She stated that most building permit types were down in 2023 but that the numbers in 2024 so far have risen from 2023, which she partially attributed to the building permits associated with the PSCDC affordable housing project.

Flowers commented that her department is “concerned” about the possibility that the state may mandate that the county move to the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which she stated may increase the cost of building in the area.

She stated that she and Chief Building Official Tim Hatch are currently reviewing the 2021 IECC and preparing to provide a list of suggested amendments to the code that the county could implement if it is compelled to adopt it.

As an example of the 2021 IECC standards, Flowers stated that it would require a “whole-home pressurization test” for every build, which she commented would likely be difficult to perform or comply with for local builders.

Maez asked what a pressurization test is intended to do.

Hatch responded that it is intended to detect air leaks and that it can be “brutally” expensive to build structures that have few enough leaks to pass this test.

Flowers added that the amount that the county can modify the 2021 IECC would depend on the state mandate.

Hatch raised concerns about the potential negative impact of the code on cost of building, and Maez expressed doubt about if living in a more airtight home is healthy.

Flowers stated that the Building Department is planning to begin implementing online applications related to building in 2024.

Flowers explained that the Planning Department previously obtained STR permitting software that failed to implement all the promised elements and is “extremely cumbersome on the staff.”

She stated that she dropped two modules of this software and switched to permitting software through GOGov, which she stated is the same software provider that code enforcement uses.

She added that GOGov has been effective for this department and having the same software across multiple departments would help streamline processes within these departments, particularly in terms of processing building and septic permits.

Flowers stated that she also hopes to create a process that will handle and allow for complaints to be submitted online for all types of complaints, which she added is currently possible only for complaints involving STRs.

Medina noted that the county previously planned to create a public portal where data on STRs would be available for the public to examine.

Flowers explained that this public portal was part of the functions that the previous STR permitting software failed to implement and that creating such a portal would likely be difficult, although she is working on finding ways to implement one.

She added that she is also concerned about the numbers of STRs in the community potentially being overestimated by the software and that having the data generated by this software publicly available could be misleading.

Medina commented that her question was primarily made on the behalf of the public and that she wanted to make clear that this functionality would not be available in the near future, despite previous county promises.

Planning Manager Owen O’Dell added that the Planning Department publishes lists of permitted STRs in the county monthly, which provides some publicly accessible data on what STRs are active.

Flowers stated that a future priority for the Planning Department is implementing the GOGov software.

She highlighted that the meeting day for the Archuleta County Planning Commission has switched from the fourth Wednesday of the month to the fourth Thursday to allow the commission to use a larger facility for applications that generate high amounts of public interest.

Flowers stated that the Water Quality Department has completed a large amount of training to improve the capabilities of its staff as well as completing the adoption of local water quality regulations by the county’s board of health.

She added that the department also created forms and defined procedures for on-site wastewater treatment system permitting and other processes.

Flowers explained that the department received permitting information from San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH), but that much of this data is in a “cumbersome” format which is causing difficulties with making this information publicly available in a searchable database.

She added that, due to American Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance concerns, the information will likely not become publicly available online, but will be kept by the department.

Flowers stated that the department received 46 in-process permits from SJBPH and is working on completing them.

The department also recently ran its first course for septic installers, she stated.

Flowers added that the department will also work on implementing online permit applications in the future, as well as obtaining further certifications for staff.

She stated that the department has processed 29 new construction permits, eight alteration and repair permits, four change-of-use permits, three emergency use permits, and eight transfer of title permits in 2024, as well as awarding 22 septic installer licenses.

The group then discussed issues with inspections of open-cell and closed-cell foam in buildings, with Woodman stating that open-cell foam in buildings will be allowed and will be inspected to the specifications of the current code.

In response to a question from Medina, Woodman indicated that open-cell foam has never been inspected “to the level that the code requires,” but was previously in use and being inspected.

Then followed further discussion with Hatch and Flowers, with Flowers noting that vapor barriers associated with open-cell foam are not listed as items for inspection in the current IECC, but that the Building Department now plans to inspect them.

Medina raised concerns about the possible impact of open-cell foam on the structural integrity of buildings.

Hatch also commented that many updated codes have become “building science” and focus on “being green” and carbon footprint instead of affordability.

“Which puts people out of homes,” Maez said.

The discussion concluded with Maez stating that “common sense ain’t that common anymore” and Medina thanking Flowers for her presentation.