Mass rezoning approved in county

By Caleb Soptelean

Journal Staff Writer

The Montezuma County Commissioners unanimously approved a mass rezoning for 3,599 parcels after a public hearing on Monday.

The rezoning dealt with properties that were previously classified as “unzoned” or “historic use zone” and businesses that are located within new commerical and industrial overlay districts.

County Planning Commission Chairman Dennis Atwater said that 3,771 parcels could’ve been rezoned, so more than 95 percent of those property owners took advantage of the protections offered by rezoning.

Historic uses, or uses by right, were awarded based on what the property was being used for on July 20, 1998, which is when the county Land Use Code was adopted. The “HISTZ-historic use zone” was previously known as “unzoned,” which caused some misunderstandings because some thought that the “unzoned” classification allowed them to build whatever they wanted on their property.

However, the historic use zone has the most restricted “use by right” of any zone in the county’s Land Use Code. Any change of 10 percent or more in this historic or “unzoned” parcel would create a non-conforming use, a violation of the Land Use Code.

There are 28 different land uses in the county’s agricultural residential zoning, County Planning Director Susan Carver said. Thus, rezoning would provide for more uses for each property in question instead of just what the property was being used for on July 20, 1998.

Lewis resident Allen Maez asked the commissioners not to adopt the changes. In 1998, Maez said he chose “unzoned” for his property, which was later converted to “historic use on May 7 of this year.”

“I don’t agree with the zoning in Montezuma County,” Maez said. “I’d rather see another reboot of this with another county vote. I don’t want my neighbors having a say over what I do on my property...”

Montezuma County residents voted on Nov. 8, 1994 to direct the commissioners “to prepare a comprehensive county plan resolution which shall include a land use plan, a method for public involvement and comment in land use decisions, and mechanism to ensure a reasonable relationship and compatibility among and between adjoining land uses, which resolution shall be in a form and content ready for adoption on or before July 1, 1996.”

The measure passed with 3,523 votes in favor to 2,807 votes against, or 56 to 44 percent. Sixty-one percent of registered voters in the county cast a ballot on that issue.

C.O. “Bud” Garner spoke against the current rezone and the 1994 vote, noting the county’s first meeting on the issue wasn’t held until December 1996, five months after the “deadline” in the voter-approved ballot resolution.

“This is nothing but tyranny in its inception and its ongoing carrying out,” Garner said, noting he moved to Montezuma County in April 1994. Later, he said the “whole plan needed to be restarted with another vote of the people.”

County Attorney Bob Slough, who has been in the position since January 1987, considers the 1994 county vote strictly advisory. State law didn’t require the vote or authorize it, he said, the county commissioners did. Consequently, they were free to abide by it or not.

Commissioner Gerald Koppenhafer said that, back in 1998, properties with less than 35 acres weren’t zoned because it required a public hearing. “I think Montezuma County failed you at that time,” he said, adding, “We dropped the ball. We should have taken care of this a long time ago.”

In 1998 there were some 9,000 parcels in the county, but 3,771, or 42 percent, were left unzoned, Atwater said. “Our mission is to try to correct something that didn’t happen 14 years ago,” he said, adding that “many built and became non-compliant.”

“You become non-compliant by dividing the land into parcels less than 35 acres and try to do something else on it,” Koppenhafer said.

Some land owners had questions on how rezoning would change their property value. “Currently, the impact of zoning on property values in Montezuma County is negligible,” County Assessor Mark Vanderpool said in a Sept. 7 letter to Carver. He noted that state law requires assessors to classify property according to its use, not its zoning.

“In more sophisticated real estate markets, commercially zoned land usually has a higher value than residentially zoned land. However, in our county, due to the incomplete status of zoning throughout the county, a limited number of sales transactions, and a seemingly liberal Special Use Permit process, we have not been able to determine a definitive pattern from the market.”

Commissioner Larrie Rule said he used to be against zoning but apparently has changed his mind somewhat. “It will protect your rights without a lawsuit... maybe,” he said.

Cortez resident Rob Pope objected to having to notify the county if he didn’t want the rezoning the Planning Department recommended. “The Legislature gave counties the authority to zone the whole county,” Slough said.

“It’s been quite a process,” Slough concluded.