Amid a chorus of opposition from nearby residents, a deadlocked Montezuma Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday rejected plans for Weber Hall, a proposed small events venue minutes from downtown Mancos.
Commissioner Kent Lindsay voted against the application from prospective owners Jeremy and Silvina Moore over concerns that noise from events, specifically from portable toilets outside the hall, would disrupt the rural surroundings. Commissioner Gerald Koppenhafer, who owns property around the site, recused himself from the decision. With Commissioners James Candelaria and Lindsay at an impasse, the proposal failed.
For the Moores, the decision dooms their dreams for Weber Hall, and deprives Mancos of a needed venue and economic engine that would have helped support other businesses.
“Every year, there's a new business that opens up and then closes down the next year,” Jeremy Moore told The Journal. “A lot of people have said the only people whose voice should matter are the ones who live on that road. But that's just simply not the case when you have businesses that are shutting down.”
The decision also did little to address concerns from critics and supporters alike that county commissioners were taking a scattershot approach to interpreting Montezuma County’s decades-old land use code. Several residents called for change.
“It’s probably time to just revisit it … possibly to loosen up some things and possibly to clamp down some things,” said Mountain Roots Produce co-owner Mike Nolan, who lives by the Moores and opposed the plans for Weber Hall.
While the Moores offered numerous concessions to try to appease critics, including requiring a shuttle service if alcohol was served at events and adopting new noise mitigation efforts, it wasn’t enough to overcome the stiff opposition from neighbors.
“We do live in a rural area … but it's also hard when new businesses are trying to come in and they're trying to be creative on how they're going to be opening,” said Susan Lisak, director of the Dolores Chamber of Commerce, who spoke at the meeting in support of the Moores’ application. “The more successful businesses are the ones that are able to bring in outside money instead of recycling the existing money that just comes in. And weddings and retreats are one way that can bring in outside money,” she said.
Notably, the plans for Weber Hall were approved twice by the planning and zoning committee. While it’s not uncommon for the commissioners to vote in opposition to the panel, according to Montezuma County Planning Director Don Haley, commissioners, including Lindsay, had previously shown deference to the committee’s decisions.
“What’s the point of having a Planning and Zoning Commission if they’re going to go against what they say?” asked Jeremy Moore.
Alongside concerns over the noise levels and increased traffic on rural roads, opponents lambasted the decision by the Moores to try to operate Weber Hall under a combination of high-impact and special use permits, the latter of which is intended to provide flexibility for temporary or interim events, like a music festival or political rally.
The Moores argued that the venue classified as a “retreat/guest ranch,” one of the permissible categories for such a permit under the county’s land use code. However, critics countered that allowing weddings every weekend under a carve-out intended to make it easier to hold standalone events would set a precedent that future business owners could abuse.
“Special events are for one-time, they're not for two events every weekend, two events during the week, 52 weeks a year,” Mancos resident Craig McClure said at Tuesday’s meeting. “And this isn’t a guest ranch. This is clear. It’s on less than 5 acres, has no ranching and farming, no overnight lodging, no installed facilities or waste or sanitation.”
Plans for Ramble Outdoors, a new campground located by Phil’s World outside of Cortez, were approved earlier in Tuesday’s meeting with same combination of permits the Moores were seeking, drawing similar opposition from critics who questioned whether the commission is welcoming potential legal challenges by continuing to approve businesses under those special carve outs.
“Why do we have land use code if our leaders won’t follow it?,” said Cortez resident Dave Dove, who opposed plans for both Ramble Outdoors and Weber Hall. “We have to be super-cautious about setting these precedents.”