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Cortez is updating the land use code: Here’s what lies ahead

The public can view drafts of two chapters
Cortez City Hall

The city of Cortez is working toward updating its land use code, and has drafted two chapters that are available for viewing online. These chapters cover general and nonconformity provisions, zone district regulations, and use standards, according to a news release from the city.

The public is invited to attend one of two open house sessions on June 26. The first will be noon to 2 p.m. at the Cortez Chamber of Commerce, 20 W. Main St. The second will be 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at City Hall, 123 Roger Smith Ave.

The city’s needs have changed since 1996, when the current land use code was adopted, and 2001, when it was revised. The land use code is responsible for setting regulations for property within Cortez city limits. The update will address “inconsistencies and outdated language” according to the news release.

It can be viewed at https://plan.konveio.com/cortez-land-use-code-update.

The land use code is designed to “promote the health, safety, and general welfare of the city,” the release says. The regulations aim to provide fire safety, adequate lighting and air, and prevent overcrowding. They also ensure efficient resource use and aid in the provision of public works, such as transportation, water and sewage.

Logan Simpson Consulting firm has been working with the city to develop this updated land use code. The city has also engaged with the community in the last year through one-on-one interviews, open houses, and task force meetings including “developers, business owners, residents, and city staff,” the release says.

The process for updating the land use code is broken down into four steps. The first, foundation, was launched in April last year and included a website launch, community listening sessions, and online housing conversations, according to the city of Cortez’s website.

The city then conducted an assessment that reviewed the current code, analyzed issues and conducted the Housing Plan Assessment. The assessment was finished and released Aug. 30 of last year, about a month behind schedule.

The city is now in the drafting phase, which involves drafting land use code and housing policy updates, holding community advisory committee meetings, community forums, and work sessions with Planning and Zoning and City Council.

“We knew when we started this project that it was a very ambitious timeline, especially for a complex set of regulations like the land use code,” Rachael Marchbanks, Community and Economic Development Director for the city of Cortez, told a Journal reporter.

The first chapter of the draft, titled “General Provisions,” outlines the purpose of the land use code, how nonconforming properties will be treated, and how code violations will be handled. The update will improve the structure and functionality of the code, allow property owners to expand nonconforming structures within the dimensional standards, and change code violations from a misdemeanor to a civil offense.

There will also be “an increase in the time period of a nonconforming use to be considered abandoned from six to 12 months,” the release says.

Chapter three, titled “Zone District Regulations,” defines zone districts and the dimensional standards for each, as well as describes which uses are permitted in each district. The districts will be renamed to provide clarity on their uses.

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Dimensional standards will be adjusted to be in agreement with the city’s Housing Action Plan. This includes more housing types allowed in Residential Two Zone District and Manufactured Home District, referred to as R3 in the draft.

According to Marchbanks, there are multiple platted lots within the R1 Zone District that are smaller than 7,000 square feet, which makes them nonconforming. R1 Zone District includes single family residences, according to the city of Cortez Zoning Map. The update would suggest adjusting the minimum square footage for lots in this district, which would allow these lots to be developed.

These two chapters completed the first module included in the drafting phase. The next two modules will include subdivision and site development standards, historic preservation, application procedures, flood plain regulations, definitions and appendices, according to the city’s website.

The city is introducing these proposed changes to the public to gauge the items of concern. The changes are “based on discussions and comments we've received from the public, from City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission, as well as out land use code working group,” Marchbanks said in a follow-up email.

The dimensional standards and housing and density have been discussed at length by those involved in drafting the update, Marchbanks said. They’ve made minor adjustments to address the housing shortage in Cortez.

The economic impacts of these updates have not been studied at this point, Marchbanks said. The estimated cost for this update is $150,000. Eighty percent of this cost is paid for by a grant from the Department of Local Affairs, Marchbanks said.

“We do hope that the land use code changes will make it easier for the public to read, for developers to read, and for city staff to use,” Marchbanks stated. “As far as development in the city, one thing is that we’re hoping to make it a little less expensive for the construction of housing.” The changes would require less land and relax some standards for new housing.

The fourth step of this process will be adoption, where the final document will be refined, final public outreach will be conducted, and adoption hearings will be held. The city aims to have these hearings this fall.

The Cortez Planning Commission and City Council will hold a joint work session on June 25 at 5 p.m. in the Cortez City Council Chambers. They will discuss these drafts, and the public is welcome to attend, though no public comment or City Council action will be allowed.

The public is welcome to ask questions and give feedback by attending one of two open house sessions. The first will be held on June 26 from noon to 2 p.m. at the Cortez Chamber of Commerce, at 20 W. Main St. The second will be June 26 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at City Hall, 123 Roger Smith Ave. There will be additional opportunities for public opinion in coming months while the city anticipates adoption hearings this fall. To find more information, visit https://www.cortezco.gov/.

A correction to the address for the Cortez Chamber of Commerce was made.