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BoCC amends land use regs, more changes on the way

Although seven different land use issues were contemplated at Tuesday’s Archuleta County Board of County Commissioner’s meeting, Archuleta County staff seems no closer to answering one land use question that plagues residents — how is “agriculture” defined?

The first land use issue on the plate for the commissioners was a pair of amendments concerning the number of dwellings allowed per lot, tract and parcel, with the amendments clarifying language within the code that had left questions unanswered.

The first of the two amendments, to section 2.1.2.3, allows one additional dwelling and states that, “Multiple dwelling units in conjunction with an active agricultural operation require an agricultural Use By Right Permit.”

Second, to an amendment to section 3.1.2.2, which says that the agricultural ranching zoning district is intended to be low density, was added that residential density allows for a maximum of two dwellings per lot, tract or parcel, and the amendment states that more than two dwellings on 35 acres or more may be permitted for active agricultural businesses “where the associated Land Use Permit has been approved.”

The amendments brought up the question of what constituted an agricultural operation and the fact that an agricultural status for tax purposes was not the standard — but that agricultural land use was.

Lesli Allison, manager of Banded Peak Ranch near Chromo, who initially questioned the definition of “agricultural,” expressed concern over the subjectivity of deeming a land use agricultural with no concrete definition and also noted concern about abuse of agricultural status.

In response to a question by Darwin Flaugh, senior planner Cindy Schultz said that a Use By Right permit, which costs $50, has been in place since 2006.

A specific situation presented by Anita Hooten caused planning commission chair Kirk England to state that amendments cannot serve 100 percent of the population because of special circumstances, but that the amendments served over 90 percent of county residents. He added that avenues exist for appeal for those with special circumstances that may not be answered within the regulation.

“This legislation, as submitted, sets a huge example that we want ranching to prosper,” England said.

With the passage of the first round of amendments, the BoCC moved on to recreational vehicle use and two more amendments — RV camping for up to 120 consecutive days in a 12-month period with no waste discharge and setback requirements, and RV camping in conjunction with an active building permit.

Debra Brown, who has often participated at planning commission meetings dealing with the topic, noted her opinion that writing the regulations now in some form would prevent future BoCCs, planning commissions and residents from thinking the situation had never been addressed.

Steve Price asked if, as the amendment read, he could camp in an RV for 120 days, leave for a few days, then return for another 120 days (county Attorney Todd Starr agreed), before delving into the topic of alternative housing — a topic the planning commission is currently looking into.

Audience member Allan Bunch then questioned the need for setbacks, was told that setbacks were not the subject of the meeting, and was asked to bring the topic up at another time and in another meeting.

The amendments were approved unanimously by the BoCC.

Next, the commissioners tackled subdivision exemption plats for agricultural ranching land divisions.

State law already grants the BoCC the discretion to approve or deny exemption plats, but the amendment further defines that the BoCC can be approached to create an additional lot from an existing tract of 35 acres or more within agricultural ranching zoning for the benefit of “the traditional ranching/farming family.”

Before the BoCC can approve or deny an exemption, a number of conditions have to be met, including noticing and water requirements.

No more than one home will be allowed on the new tract, with two on the original tract. The properties are required to use the same access.

No minimum lot size is specified, Schultz said, because the San Juan Basin Health Department also plays a role in determining allowable lot sizes.

Planning Commissioner Chalyn Fitzgerald expressed concern over the amendment, opining that it was not the same as was approved by the planning commission and had not been cleaned up, though the concept was correct.

Indeed, before the amendment was accepted by the BoCC, language about exemption plats being prepared by a certified surveyor was adjusted to appease Starr.

On the heels of accepting the exemption plat amendment, the BoCC contemplated accessory structures.

Under the amendment recommended by the planning commission, the definition of “accessory structure” was adjusted and it was determined that commercial or industrial uses of accessory structures require “appropriate land use permit (whether CUP or UBR).”

Also, the proposed amendment allowed residential accessory structures to be placed without a primary structure present first, and for 7 percent of a parcel of land to be covered with accessory structures as long as setbacks (either 25 feet or the parcel’s setbacks, whichever is more stringent) are met and requirements for the space between structures were met.

Brown told the BoCC that issues residents had with the proposed amendment centered around cargo shipping containers and that the containers should be separated from other accessory structures in the amendment.

Brown then presented a number of recommended changes to the amendment, which separated cargo containers and reduced the setback requirements from 25 feet for all other accessory structures.

“This is like a moving target all the time,” Allison said about the amendment, which saw many iterations at planning commission meetings.

Allison again brought up a number of concerns over how land area would be calculated for structures such as paddocks.

BoCC Chair Clifford Lucero then expressed his desire to send the amendment back to the planning commission for a rewrite and called for the public hearing on the topic to be closed.

Commissioner Bob Moomaw agreed with Lucero, noting that storage containers are intended to be temporary and should be treated different than auxiliary structures, also pointing out that he liked limits proposed by Brown for the number of cargo or storage containers allowed on land parcels of different sizes.

Commissioner John Ranson, too, agreed, voicing that he wanted the 25-foot setbacks to be addressed and that he wanted agricultural land to be left out of the amendment.

Lucero said he wanted to take the time to make sure the amendment was right before passing it, thereby returning it to the planning commission. This concerned England, since a previous attempt to revisit it was denied by the planning commission.

Next, Schultz proposed an amendment to the definition of “manufactured home” to align the definition with that included in the 2006 International Building Code.

Flaugh questioned why the change was necessary, to which County Administrator Greg Schulte replied that it was necessary to make the definition consistent with the international standard.

After it was determined that the effort was made only to clean up the language of the definition, the commissioners approved the amendment, though not without voicing their concern about overregulation.

Again visiting agricultural-related amendments, the BoCC heard about agricultural Use By Right permits.

The proposed amendment reads, “Accessory structures and dwellings that are associated with the exempt uses and activities herein may be allowed with a Use By Right permit for Agricultural Operations,” a departure from the current language, which does not require a land use permit.

Again, audience members questioned the definition of “agricultural” and if horse owners would be included under the definition of an agricultural operation.

After a motion and second in favor of the motion were made to allow for commissioner discussion, the amendment fell, with all three commissioners against the amendment.

Last among the land use issues discussed at the meeting was agricultural gravel mining operations that do not require a permit.

The amendment is an attempt to close loopholes in the current language and allow more local land use control, Schultz said.

The amendment does not allow county roads to be used for gravel hauling without a permit, but would allow mining on large properties as long as all activities are at least 1,000 feet from a neighboring residence. Under the amendment, the size of the area and cubic yardage mined is limited.

Schultz said that, according to Planning Commissioner Ray Lattin, the limitations mean that about 30,000 cubic yards of gravel could be mined each year.

After hearing public comment about possible exceptions and the pending application for the Eagle Mountain Gravel Pit, Starr questioned and suggested changes to language in order to better define what equipment would not be allowed on county roads.

The BoCC also opted to include hours of operation to the amendment, deciding on 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

With all of the land use issues on the agenda contemplated and dealt with, one last issue surfaced during public comment — the planning department’s stance on allowing or disallowing storage containers while regulations are being written.

Starr said that staff will not prohibit storage containers, with Schulte noting that, under the current regulations, a principle structure is required before any accessory structure is allowed.

Starr also informed members of the BoCC that they had a choice to either do nothing about the cargo structures before the planning commission brings forth new regulations or could set temporary regulations at a later meeting.

While those with questions about accessory structures and cargo containers may soon have answers, no relief is on the horizon for residents questioning agricultural operations and definitions.

randi@pagosasun.com