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Mancos board comes to table with planning and zoning

Board agrees to vote on new rules for commissioners
Perry Lewis, left, on his last day as mayor pro tem of Mancos in 2014. Now Lewis serves on the planning and zoning commission.

Members of the Mancos Board of Trustees and the Planning and Zoning Commission met on Wednesday to discuss solutions for the latter group’s frequent failures to meet a quorum.

The town board scheduled a joint meeting with the commission after Jan. 17, when it canceled its fourth meeting in a year due to a lack of attendance. Wednesday’s meeting also did not meet a quorum, since only two of the five planning and zoning commissioners turned up, but they held an informal workshop with trustees and discussed possible changes to the town ordinance that governs the commission. The trustees agreed to vote on those changes at a future board meeting.

Four members of the town board participated in the discussion. Trustee candidate Betsy Harrison also participated, asking questions about the existing planning and zoning rules and offering suggestions. Town Administrator Heather Alvarez said a planning and zoning meeting normally wouldn’t include comments from the public, but she allowed it on Wednesday because of the workshop’s informal nature. Former commissioner Peter Brind’Amour also attended the workshop.

The planning commission currently has five members–chairman John Bolton, Leslie Feast, John Cox, Perry Lewis and Gina Roberts – and an alternate, Alexander Costen. All the regular members are paid $50 per month, regardless of whether they attend meetings, but Costen is not paid.

Feast hasn’t attended a meeting in more than a year because she’s struggling with an illness, Alvarez said. Lewis and Cox, the two commissioners who attended Wednesday’s workshop, floated several possible reasons other members haven’t been attending. Cox said he works night shifts and has to take time off in order to attend the 7 p.m. meetings, so he only comes when the group “absolutely needs a quorum.”

Lewis suggested the way meetings are run could be part of the problem. He said discussions on zoning issues often get off track and devolve into arguments, and since Bolton frequently misses meetings, there is no chairman present to enforce the group’s meeting protocols. He said he believes the problem is with one or two commissioners rather than the whole board. He said he would support a rule saying they won’t get paid for meetings they don’t attend.

“This isn’t a job, it’s still volunteer,” he said. “If you don’t show up, you don’t get paid.”

Although the planning commission hasn’t had any action items on the agenda for a few months, Mayor Queenie Barz said it’s important for the town to be able to rely on the group to meet when there is a public hearing scheduled, as there will be in March. The town is also planning a land use code update soon, and she said the commission will have to review some of the changes before the board can vote on them.

“Our concern is we’re not doing due diligence to our citizens,” she said. “If they have a public hearing or an ordinance or something to discuss ... and there’s no quorum, they’re stuck until another 30 days.”

Trustee Cindy Simpson said she believed scheduling fewer planning and zoning meetings could just cause longer delays. Alvarez said Colorado statutes allow municipal governments to remove members of planning and zoning commissions, but they must demonstrate a reason for the removal. The town has been reluctant to do that, she said, but it may be necessary in order to fix the quorum problem.

Ultimately, the workshop’s participants came up with several potential changes to planning and zoning protocols, which Alvarez said she would put on future town board agendas. The biggest changes would include paying commissioners and alternates only for the meetings they attend, and possibly reducing the number of regular commissioners to three instead of five.

If some of the current commission members end up stepping down, Alvarez said it may not be difficult to fill their places. One person has already applied for a position, she said.

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