Greg Kemp, a longtime champion of land-use planning and government transparency, will run as an unaffiliated candidate for the Montezuma County Commission seat open in District 3, the Mancos district.
He will be vying with Larry Don Suckla, another unaffiliated candidate planning to run in that district. If both are successful in petitioning onto the ballot, they will face the winner of the Republican primary in the November general election.
Kemp told the Free Press his top issues include economic development, government transparency and accessibility, and being a full-time commissioner.
The latter is particularly important today, he said. “I feel that now it does a disservice to the people of the county not to be a fulltime commissioner, because everything has gotten more complex. There are a lot of boards the commissioners are supposed to serve on and issues to keep up with.”
The current commissioners, who are all involved in running personal or family businesses in addition to their positions on the board, don’t have time to do their jobs properly, he contended.
For example, he said, the commission failed to comment on the Forest Service’s original travel-management plan for the Boggy-Glade area – a plan that proved to be highly controversial – and thus did not have standing to appeal the agency’s decision.
“The Dolores County commissioners made comments during the comment period, but our commissioners didn’t even look at it until it was too late. I think that’s an example of how they’re not able time-wise to put the kind of effort into the job that it really requires nowadays.”
He also said he believes the commissioners don’t come to meetings prepared. “My impression is they read reports at meetings that they should have reviewed ahead of time, or when it comes to planning issues, they’ll ask the planning director to give them an overview. They should have already done an overview themselves.”
Kemp pledged to be accessible to citizens and to have office hours if elected. He would also like to schedule some public hearings and other key meetings in evenings.
Kemp moved to the area in 2001 and has since become a familiar face at commission meetings and public hearings, having attended more than 100 such meetings. He was one of the founding members of the Montezuma Vision Project, a group that worked for increased land-use planning but that has more or less gone dormant.
However, Kemp still believes improvements need to be made to the county’s landuse code – in particular in regard to zoning. “The lack of zoning is one of the issues that is hindering growth and economic development,” he said.
As an example he cited the Stringer warehouse south of Mancos. Jay Stringer, who started out in 1992 with a machine shop in the same location, has said he came to the county planning department after the landuse code was adopted in 1998 and asked for his 52-acre tract to be zoned commercial.
Instead, he was advised to select AR 35- plus (large agricultural) zoning. Under that zoning, a high-impact permit has to be obtained for operations that exceed certain standards.
In 2004, Stringer sought and received a high-impact permit to build a 30,000-squarefoot expansion onto his warehouse. Neighbors objected and some filed suit; in November 2007 the Colorado Court of Appeals found that the county commissioners had erred in granting Stringer the high-impact permit because, “the right to continue the use does not include the right to enlarge the use.”
“Mr. Stringer did everything the county told him to do,” Kemp said, “until his operation got so big and so obtrusive and he wanted to expand it, and residents said this was an intrusion on their property rights because this is a real agricultural area, and they sued and won. So this guy did everything the county told him and now he has a milliondollar investment out there and he’s not using it and there’s no guarantee he could use it again. Its use was discontinued so it’s no longer grandfathered in.”
Another example of how a lack of zoning is hampering development, Kemp said, involves the graffiti-covered building south of Cortez that used to house the M&M Truck Stop. Out-of-state investors wanted to convert it to a chain motel, he said, “but as soon as they found that the land is unzoned, they decided they didn’t want to take the time and money to invest in this property with no guarantee they would be able to get the necessary zoning.
“They decided to just move on down the road, and now we’re left with what’s become kind of an eyesore, because it is unzoned.”
Kemp knows that the concept of zoning is not popular with everyone in the county. His opponent, Suckla, has said he thinks the county has already gone too far with regulations. But Kemp believes the county’s current system, under which people can remain unzoned if they choose, has created confusion and ill will among neighbors.
When the LIZ system was adopted in 1998, there was a sign-up period for people to zone their property. However, if they chose certain zones, such as small-lot subdivisions or commercial, they also had to get county approval. Many people didn’t understand that and thought they were already zoned for a certain use, only to learn later that they weren’t.
Kemp said establishing zoning is also important for the real-estate market. “When somebody comes into the county, they see the signs saying, “Montezuma County is zoned,” so they look into the parcel of land they’d like to build a retirement home on. They find out the land around it is not zoned and say, ‘Before I invest my life savings here, I’d like to have some idea what’s it’s going to look like around me.’
“That’s not to say I would never allow development because I don’t have that right, but I’d like to give people an idea how things might stay, within the range of development potential.”
A lingering and contentious issue is visual blight. Kemp said the best way to deal with it is through voluntary measures, not regulations. “Visual blight is a real issue but it is in large measure in the eye of the beholder,” he said. “The best way to control it is by positive reinforcement when something is cleaned up. This is a rural area and outside of positive reinforcement I don’t know there is much we can do.”
Kemp said he has chosen to run as an unaffiliated candidate because it will allow him to best represent all of the county’s residents if he not allied with one political party. He said the county’s interests have not been served as well as they could be because, since January 2005, all the commissioners have been Republicans.
But Kemp said this board has done some good things. They have been financially prudent, he said, and made a wise decision in purchasing the First National Bank building so they could create more courtroom space – as mandated by the state – without having to build a new structure.
This board has been good about publishing county agendas and other information on the web, he said. Also, they directed the planning commission to resolve the issue of unzoned properties and they implemented the state plumbing code. “We always had the state electrical code,” Kemp said, “but plumbing wasn’t enforced, and now it is. And despite the outcry when it happened, there hasn’t been any resistance to it once it’s taken effect.”
Kemp said promoting wise economic development is a key interest of his and that he recognizes its importance. “Everybody has a Not in My Backyard attitude, but quite frankly, development is going to happen. It’s the responsibility of the commissioners to make the best effort they can to have it be as unintrusive as possible for the neighbors.”
He does believe the county needs to be more proactive in seeing whether businesses and industrial operations are adhering to requirements placed on them, rather than merely reacting to citizen complaints.
As a member of the Montezuma County Economic Development Association, Kemp helped to keep the Four States Ag Expo in Cortez when its organizers considered moving to Farmington, N.M., several years ago. He said he is an ardent supporter of agriculture but sees its future as moving toward more small-scale operations.
He also believes in cooperation and communication, particularly when it comes to the Forest Service and BLM, and believes most issues about road access can be worked out. A good example was the recent decision by the Forest Service to grant an easement to the county for the Red Arrow Mine road near Mancos.
Kemp and Suckla cannot start circulating petitions until April 9. They have to collect 320 signatures from registered voters in order to get on the November ballot. The petitions must be turned in June 4.
Kemp has a web site at www.vote4kemp. com. He can be reached at 970-560-3898.