July 2011

Speak now on zoning in Montezuma County

A lot of folks have opinions about zoning in Montezuma County – everything from, “Zoning is an infringement of our personal property rights!” to, “Zoning is protection for my quality of life and property values, so why don’t we have a stronger system?”

Well, this is the time to speak up or forever hold your peace.

The county is holding workshops to hear from residents about a proposal to retire “LIZ,” the system of Landowner- Initiated Zoning that has been in place since 1998, and establish a more conventional system.

Under LIZ, landowners were supposed to choose how they would zone their own properties, within certain guidelines. The idea was that people would informally design and zone their own neighborhoods, working things out among themselves.

Some of that did happen, but many residents opted not to choose a zoning designation. Today, more than half of all county properties remain unzoned. This means neighbors of those tracts don’t have any idea what the landowners might be planning to do in the future.

The county is now proposing that all properties be zoned. Those whose owners haven’t selected a designation will be zoned according to their current use. This is still not a heavy-handed, topdown approach, but it will provide some clarity and predictability.

An even stickier planning problem involves commercial and industrial uses.

In the past, these types of businesses have popped up all over the county. And almost every time a major proposal rears its head, there is an outcry from neighbors, followed by an angry public hearing and a decision that leaves many folks unhappy.

The county commissioners and planning department are hoping to eliminate some of that by establishing commercial- industrial “overlay” zones along highway corridors passing through the county’s municipalities and populated areas as well as the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park.

The idea is that businesses proposed in those areas would face an easier, more streamlined permitting process in order to encourage development in those stretches rather than scattered all over.

The push toward these changes came out of public workshops held in 2009 to gather input from locals about whether the county’s comprehensive plan needed to be rewritten. The verdict was that the overall comprehensive plan was fine, but the issues of unzoned tracts and industrial-commercial uses needed to be addressed.

This spring and summer the county planning department and planning commission have been holding public workshops around the county to hear what residents think about these new proposals. And in response to comments they’ve already received, they have modified their proposals to include breaking down “industrial” uses into “heavy” and “light” types.

Unfortunately, not a lot of people have come to the meetings. About 37 interested citizens showed up for a workshop in Mancos, but meetings in Dolores and Summit Lake drew only eight or 10 folks.

But there is still time to make your voice heard. There will be two workshops in July:

• Thursday, July 7, at the Lewis-Arriola Community Center, 21176 Road S;

• Thursday, July 21, at Pueblo Community College, 33057 Highway 160.

Both are at 6 p.m. You don’t have to live in those areas to attend the meetings – anyone can come.

The schedule also calls for a workshop Tuesday, Aug. 9, at 6 p.m. at the Montezuma County annex building, 107 N. Chestnut, Cortez, and a possible workshop at Battle Rock School, 11247 Road G, on Friday, Aug. 19, also at 6.

Whatever your feelings about planning and zoning, this is the time to let the county know about them. It won’t do a lot of good to complain after a system you hate is adopted – or a system you like is scrapped.

Help the county’s planners and the county commissioners make good decisions about land-use planning for the future. Show up, listen to the presentations, and make your voice heard.