Hearing continued on changes to land-use code

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The Montezuma County commissioners at press time appeared to be moving toward adopting amendments to the land-use code that would change the name of unzoned parcels, encourage landowners to voluntarily zone their property, and establish commercial and industrial “overlay” areas where business development would be encouraged.

On April 30, the board heard from five citizens who largely supported the amendments and two who opposed them, according to planning director Susan Carver. The board continued the hearing until Monday, May 7, at 2 p.m. in the commission meeting room in the county courthouse.

Under the county’s current system of zoning, called Landowner-Initiated Zoning, property owners were supposed to zone their own properties within parameters established by the size of the parcel. People who wanted potentially controversial zoning, such as commercial-industrial or high-density residential, were supposed to go through a public hearing.

However, there was some confusion about the process and about the meaning of choosing to remain unzoned, something roughly half of landowners choose to do.

To clarify that, one of the proposed changes would eliminate the term “unzoned” and replace it with “historic use zone” to clarify that people who don’t sign up for a category must continue with their current use — defined as the use that existed, without interruption or expansion, on July 20, 1998, when the code was adopted — unless they receive county permission to change it.

Landowners who select a zoning designation actually have more uses by right than those who don’t, Carver said. There are 14 primary or accessory uses by right in agricultural zoning categories and 14 in residential categories, so if someone is zoned ag-residential, “you have 28 land-use opportunities that are uses by right,” she said.

The proposed amendments would set a new sign-up period for landowners to be rezoned for the actual size and use of their parcel. The zones would be affirmed at a blanket hearing before the board. The $500 rezoning fee would be waived for those who take this option, Carver said.

Owners of parcels currently zoned as “unzoned” may choose from a list of zoning categories which are based on parcel size. Larger parcel sizes have more zoning choices.

Someone who wants a zoning designation that involves a change in current use, such as going from agricultural to a residential subdivision, would have to go through the regular zoning process instead and have an individual public hearing.

The proposed changes would also give commissioners the right to establish commercial and industrial “overlays” – areas where such development would be encouraged through incentives such as tax breaks or reduced fees. The actual overlay areas would not be designated at this time.

Carver said she hopes a master zoning plan for the county can be finalized by October of this year. She said there will be public meetings in each of eight districts in the county to educate citizens about the process and the choices they have regarding zoning.

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From May 2012.