Giving credit where credit is due

“The Dolores River Valley should be treated no different than any other areas of the county.” That was the language contained in one of several proposed changes to the Montezuma County Land Use Code put forth by the Planning and Zoning Commission recently.

Among other things, it would have meant that the current minimum lot size in the river valley, which is 10 acres, would be reduced to three acres or even one acre, depending on a future decision regarding the rest of the county. That idea raised alarm among many citizens, who emailed the commissioners with their concerns and came out or Zoomed in for a public hearing on the proposed changes on Aug. 18.

But before the hearing really got under way, the commissioners decided they weren’t going to adopt the proposal to treat the river valley the same way as the rest of the county, at least not any time soon.

“That valley is significantly different, because we have a state highway and a river in it, and there are few places it can be widened,” said Commissioner Jim Candelaria.

“I have not had one landowner contact me and say, ‘I like this idea’,” said Commissioner Larry Don Suckla.

Keenan Ertel agreed, saying the discussion about the minimum lot size along the river should be undertaken at another time.

The commissioners had heard from a lot of people opposed to this change, and they listened. They demonstrated their understanding of the fact that the Dolores River is the lifeblood of this community and the water needs to be protected.

There are still some major changes to the land use code that the commissioners will take up at a public hearing on Sept. 22. One of the biggest is to reduce the minimum lot size outside the Dolores River Valley from three acres, which it has been since the code was written, to one acre. There are valid arguments both for and against doing so. It’s true, as Candelaria noted, that any land use code is a living document, not set in stone. Codes need to be revisited and revised at times.

However, a number of citizens have also noted that this may not be an ideal time to consider major alterations to the code. As local resident Bill Ivy said on Aug. 18, we are currently in a period of widespread uncertainty and instability. “This zoning proposal invites controversy and bitterness and it’s at a time when people do not need more polarization,” he said. Along with that, it remains difficult for some folks to attend public hearings in person, in light of the coronavirus, and not everyone does well with Zoom. So it might be worth punting major land use code changes to the future rather than the present.

At any rate, we hope the commissioners will consider the remaining proposed changes as carefully as they considered the river-valley proposal on Aug. 18. For Suckla and Ertel, these are the final months of their eight-year tenures as commissioners. During those eight years, they’ve made some decisions we agreed with and some we roundly criticized. But they can leave office proud that their record will include this key decision to protect and preserve the water quality in the Dolores River.

From Editorials.