By Ed Fincher
Concerns about the Pagosa Springs Land Use and Development Code were raised at a joint town council/planning commission work session held on Sept. 17.
This was the second work session for discussion of the addition of three sections to the LUDC concerning the use of cargo containers. Although the group was unable to reach a consensus, in the end, after making some modifications to the second section, the decision was made to present the proposed sections to town council and see how the vote turns out.
However, the debate up to that point tended to reach into the broader realm of the nature of government and focused on the need to find a compromise between letting people do whatever they want without regard for other members of the community and too much government interference in the lives of individual citizens.
“I have some problems with the LUDC as a whole,” town council member Don Volger said. “When I heard that metal siding is not allowed, I said, ‘That’s nuts!’ We’re not going to allow a metal Quonset hut like the one Cappy White has? That’s crazy. That means the new bus garage; that means the high school mechanics shop; that means if the Restoration Fellowship Church were in town, it wouldn’t be allowed. That’s a metal building. Give me a break. If there are more things like that in the LUDC, then I have a problem with the LUDC as a whole.”
Town planner James Dickhoff chimed in, “This is one of the most comprehensive land use development codes a community our size has, period. This mirrors big municipalities as far as the way it is written. So, there are some things that may need work.
“When it was written four years ago, these were important issues at that time. It certainly wasn’t written by staff; it was a task force and many members of the community were involved. I think at the time, at least as far as metal siding, they were worried about the aesthetics.”
“What we need to try to do,” Volger said, “is determine why we have some of those regulations in the first place, but that’s a separate issue, because right now we have the code, and it puts you guys in a bad position, because you’ve got to enforce the code” Volger said, referring to the town staff. “If you guys go by the letter of this code we would probably have some unintended consequences. It needs to be tweaked. I would like to see recommendations from staff where it causes you problems and what you would like to see changed.”
“I keep a list as I go through it,” Dickhoff said. “Typically, when there are things like this cargo container issue, I just bring them forward as we go along.”
“I have the utmost confidence in James for his ability to use discretion,” Volger admitted, “and to work with people to try to get things done with the big picture in mind, but if there are other things that come up like the metal siding, things that are unreasonable, then they need to be addressed, because I don’t want to put staff in a position where we expect them to utilize discretion, but then get themselves in trouble for not enforcing the letter of the code.
“If you have too rigorous of a code you have a problem,” Volger explained. “We have many things like that in law enforcement. I bet I could follow any one of you around and within two hours I could write at least one citation for a violation, for any number of things. I could get you for going a mile over the speed limit.
“Now, if you have an officer that goes by the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law, that stop sign is there to keep that intersection safe, right? If somebody rolls up to it at three o’clock in the morning, glances both ways, sees nobody is coming and cruises right through it, and a cop happens to be sitting there trying to get a snooze and he sees it, if he stops him and writes him a ticket, is that the intent of the law? No! The intent is to keep the intersection safe, but the officer can say, ‘Hey, I’m just trying to do my job.’”
Volger went on to argue that the code needs to be less voluminous, not more, and Bobby Hart said, “I agree with you, but I think this came about,” he pointed to the paper on the table in front of him containing the cargo container regulations, because “it was becoming a problem. Somebody brought it to our attention.”
Volger said, “You know, I criticize our federal government for adopting Obamacare, because they didn’t even read it, and they don’t know what’s in it. There are going to be a lot of unintended consequences and they are going to be horrendous to deal with. But you know when we adopted that,” he pointed to the copy of the LUDC in the middle of the table, “we also … we didn’t read it. We didn’t know everything that’s in it. We didn’t see the unintended consequences. We trusted the staff who presented it and said, ‘We need something like this.’”