The Cortez City Council will be deciding whether or not to adopt a proposed new land use code at their Jan. 28 meeting.
To say that the massive 442-page document is deeply flawed would be an understatement.
The good citizens of Cortez invest their trust in the City Council to oversee and manage the town’s infrastructure and government while respecting citizen’s rights, in an efficient and transparent manner. Most people are busy conducting their lives. Raising children, paying bills, perhaps concerned with elder care, their jobs, and trying to build a secure future for themselves and their families. It leaves little time to read and study such a contradictory document that the land use code most certainly is.
Fortunately, Dave and Lana Waters have seized the initiative to launch a citizen awareness effort to inform people of how this document, if adopted, will affect individuals and businesses alike. Even folks who live outside the defined boundary of the city limits will be impacted.
There have been several information sharing meetings already, but for those who are just learning of this vital issue, there will be another one Jan. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Baymont Inn & Suites in Cortez. This could be the last public meeting before the City Council vote. I cannot stress enough that this is not a political issue. It is a civic issue. Find the time to learn more, and most importantly, let the City Council know what you think. Either by attending the council meeting or by letter, email, or by phone.
As I read through the document, I was struck by the totalitarian nature of it. If passed, the power the planning department will be able to wield is more than I am comfortable with. There is, of course, an appeals process, but that will require the average citizen to expend time and money on rectifying items that range from minor to major. There have been several examples lately, where the city has made a series of expensive mistakes. There is the embezzlement issue that becomes murkier by the day. Records that should be easily available are not. As bad as the missing money, the missing paper trail is worse, as it leaves one wondering about the basic integrity of a system of checks and balances. There was also the issue where Judge Plewe ruled that the city had not followed procedures in denying a permit to a business wanting to open a store. Why should citizens agree to grant more power to a City whose staff raises issues of fairness and the ability to be impartial?
Here are a few of my concerns of the proposed land use code:
- Extraterritorial area. This is the part that creates a mechanism that allows city planning rules to be applied to county residents, including subdivision of property, regulation of businesses. I have to say, this caught me by surprise. I am of the opinion that this an over-reach by the city. There is a sense that while the city does not want county residents input on their actions, it is perfectly okay for the city to weigh in on issues that occur in the county. The City of Cortez offering a resolution of support for a proposed wilderness area comes to mind.
- Regulatory overkill. This code will restrict private property rights through a variety of areas. From agricultural land, to Daycare hours, to carport and house siding materials and design, to landscaping demands that will be cost prohibitive. It even has a provision that allows for a demand to enter premises to conduct inspections by non-law enforcement personnel. It is my understanding that this last item is in the current code, but has never been exercised. It needs to be eliminated before that happens.
- Fees and fines. The cost of doing business in Cortez is going up. With so many empty storefronts on Main Street (19 at last count), I think this needs to be looked at more closely. This code is going to make buying property or starting a business more expensive. There is already concern that the starting salary for a teacher is inadequate for the cost of living here. This code, if adapted, will add to that problem. Also, the idea that the fine for violation of a permit is set at $2,650/day is ridiculous.
I know the Board of Realtors met with city officials Dec. 17 to discuss their concerns with the proposed Land Use Code. It is my understanding that they feel it will negatively impact growth. I realize that the city spent around $200,000 developing the new code, so they probably feel caught between a rock and a hard choice. I would respectfully suggest that it might be best to forget implementing the new code, and change the one currently in place as need be. Also, a reminder to the citizens of Cortez: Municipal elections are in April, a few short months away. If, you don’t like the decision your council makes, you have the power to change it.
Valerie Maez writes from Lewis, Colo.