County looks at zoning issue

After two public hearings, the Montezuma County Commission Monday afternoon approved amendments to the county’s land use code.

Included in the land use code is rezoning the unzoned parcels of land in the unincorporated areas of the county according to their historic use and size for commercial and industrial overlays in selected areas of the county that identify preferential areas for commercial or industrial development.

In a letter that was presented to the county commissioners on April 30, it stated one weakness in the land use code is the lack of understanding the code, specifically that unzoned is a zone and has the most restrictive uses by right of any zone in the land use code.

County Planning Director Susan Carver told the commission that most owners of unzoned zoned property incorrectly think that they are not restricted in uses by right.

In the letter to commissioners it mentioned that of the 9,000 tracts in the county, 40 percent or approximately 3,600 of them are zoned as unzoned.

Because some landowners misunderstand the code, it has resulted in a significant number of non-conforming uses in the county, and Carver said there may be landowners who are unknowingly violating the land use code.

The letter also stated that there is no doubt that there are many landowners in the unzoned areas in the last 14 years who have changed or expanded their use by 10 percent or more.

Commissioners were also informed that spot zoning is against the law because zoning is generally permanent, so zoning those properties with their historic use would be spot zoning in perpetuity.

The planning department told the commission it wants to bring all parcels into compliance without issuing citations while protecting historical uses.

Other issues needing to be resolved included offering all property owners a multitude of uses they do not have now and to not allow spot zoning with no fees or expenses to property owners.

Carver said there is a way to resolve all the issues and mentioned a master zoning plan that would require the planning and zoning commission to schedule eight separate public hearings in each one of the planning regions with the first one taking place sometime in June.

Prior to each region public hearing, property owners would receive a notice 30 days beforehand that includes a letter of explanation, notice of recommended zoning, uses by right and any other pertinent information.

Carver said planning and zoning expected to complete this process by sometime in October and said zoned unzoned classification would be changed to historical use zone.

Property owners zoned unzoned who wish to remain zoned unzoned can choose to do so. However, if they have become non-compliant with their zoning uses by right they must become compliant by requesting rezoning of their property and pay the rezoning application fee of $500.

Resident Pam Suckla, who spoke in opposition at Monday’s meeting, thought the $500 rezoning application fee was steep, especially since there were no guarantees the rezoning request would be approved.

Carver said the $500 application fee does not necessarily mean the rezoning request would be granted because this fee is for administrative costs.

A few members of the public wanted the commission to not pass the amendments to the land use code for the county, and Don Denison asked who he should contact to file a petition to overturn the commission’s decision.

“It seems like the big government decided to change on how to make things more difficult,” he said.

County Attorney Bob Slough researched whether a petition drive could be launched to overturn a commission vote and told Denision this could be done with the city, but not the county.

Larry Don Suckla, an unaffiliated commissioner candidate and nephew of Pam Suckla, said he thought unzoned should remain a zone and asked how those living out of town were notified of the public hearing.

Greg Kemp, another resident who is trying to get on the commissioner ballot as an unaffiliated candidate, said at the April 26 meeting that was continued to Monday May 7, not being zoned is costing the county money, and added that it is time for the county to be zoned.

Michael Maresh can be reached at michaelm@cortezjournal.com