Montezuma County commission candidate Steve Chappell didn’t mince words when asked what he’d have done differently over the past four years than incumbent Commissioner Dewayne Findley, his opponent in the Republican primary this August.
“Communication between the county and the city is probably at an alltime low,” Chappell said, “and I think that’s something I’d do different than Mr. Findley’s done.
“Those people [Cortez officials] need to be communicated with and there needs to be some cooperation to help all the county residents, including those that live within the city limits.” As the city’s economy goes, so goes the county’s, he said, and that reality should be recognized.
“City residents are county residents as well and I think we need to possibly look at Cortez and find an identity. Right now Cortez is a town that people pass through, but they don’t tend to stay,” he said. “With our archaeological setting here — we claim (to be) the capital of the world — I don’t think we’ve capitalized on that.”
More of an effort should be made to promote and capitalize on the county’s archaeological treasures, including the creation of an archaeological and wildlife museum, he said, to keep tourists in the area longer.
“I think Cortez needs to develop some kind of museum where it’s tourist-friendly,” Chappell said. He added that possibly the museum could have a wildlife display for hunters who come to the area, giving them a reason to return to Cortez.
“Why are we letting those people head to Durango?” he said. “I just think if we could get a theme for Cortez it would make it a destination for people to come to.”
Chappell said he would be willing to spend more on promoting tourism and special events, but not on endless studies. “What I see right now is that we usually spend the county’s money by creating a position or a study, and when that study is completed — I’ve seen this year after year — they come to more or less the same conclusions and nothing happens.”
But “if the money’s going to good ideas and accomplishing goals, I say, yes, let’s spend a little more money.”
One proposed special event for Labor Day weekend is the Rally in the Rockies motorcycle gathering that previously has been held in Ignacio. The organizers have applied to the Montezuma County commission for a high-impact permit, and an upcoming public hearing will determine whether the permit is approved. Chappell said if he were on the commission now he would not support approving the permit for this year because the lead time is too short for local police to plan for the event, but that he would, if elected, likely support approval of a permit next year.
“I would say for the safety and welfare of the county, it would probabaly not be a good idea this year,” he said, “(but) if law enforcement was notified in advance to where they could have people in place to handle the traffic and the safety of all the people involved, I think it would probably be a go.
“I think having people spending their money in our area and our town is a good thing.”
Still, he added, “There would have to be some good common sense and study on whether it would be helpful to the community or harmful.” Chappell sees a rosy future for the local economy.
“I’d like to see (the county) grow and develop in a good and organized manner,” he said. “Archaeology is looking us right in the eye, and I think our area is just full of opportunity. The time is ripe for young entrepreneurs to start franchise businesses such as a Red Lobster or a Dillard’s, he said. “I think Cortez is just wide open for that right now.”
Beyond economic development, one major issue the county deals with is roads. Chappell said he would also take a different approach on the upkeep of the road system.
“I would be a little more pro-active (than Findley), especially when it comes to our roads,” he said. “It’s kind of like medicine — instead of treating the ailment, I’d rather do some preventive [measures].
“I’d like to see the county’s roads improved, maybe with a plan — pick roads that have a heavier impact and chip-seal them instead of mag chloride, mag chloride [a chemical used to reduce dust on unpaved roads] year after year — that gets expensive and after so many years you could have put chip-seal down and had a road that will hold up and give those residents a road they can drive without tearing up their vehicles.”
La Plata County’s roads are better maintained, he said. “I’d like to have maybe a comparision and see what we’re not doing.”
The county’s unique zoning scheme known as LIZ, or Landowner-Initiated Zoning, needs to be “revisited” from time to time, he said, because “it’s a document that’s been misunderstood at times and rather complicated at times,” with nine different zoning categories and various types of appeals and variances possible.
“A lot of people, when they speak about LIZ, they just want some simplicity, so maybe the document could be broken down in a simpler form” that would apply to most zoning matters. One unintended consequence of requiring a minimum 3-acre lot for residential development is that the land can become neglected instead, Chappell said.
“In some areas where you have irrigation those properties are probably taken care of pretty well — you can have livestock-grazing and it’s probably a nice scene — but in the drylands where I live, those open spaces are not large enough for farmers to continue to farm, and often times they become wastelands rather than open space.”
Chappell said it was probably time for the county to take a stronger stand on visual blight. He suggested bringing in a car-crushing crew for a few days and wreckers for voluntary pick-ups of junk cars. He said incentives to property owners for landscaping along the southern appoach to Cortez might help make that area more attractive.
“I think the area really needs to address how people visually see our town.”
Chappell said some strengthening of the county’s building regulations is needed, although he balked at the idea of adopting the International Building Code, which is used in Cortez and most of the United States.
“I’m not sure the county is ready for it,” he said. “I think some of the builders would like to see some codes but I don’t know that they even want [regulated] to that extent.
“I’m kind of in the learning stage as far as building codes. I think we need the codes that look out for the safety and welfare of our community.”
One issue likely to become more contentious as the county continues to grow is animal control. Chappell said he would consider regulating dangerous dogs, but was noncommittal when asked if the county needs a dog-atlarge ordinance. Presently the county has little regulation of dogs and no animal- control officer, and incidents of dog bites and attacks on livestock are frequent.
“I think we need some responsible ownership,” he said, “and I think for dangerous animals like pit bulls, there should be something to address that.” He said dog owners also need to be aware that springtime is the birthing season for wildlife, with newborns even more vulnerable to attack.
“We used to have an animal-control officer. I would like to look into that and see why we don’t have that now.”