Land-use code shift coming?

Planners say amendments would streamline permitting process

Commercial and industrial developers in Montezuma County could save time and money under new land-use code amendments proposed last week. They were not officially adopted, since they require a public hearing, but the Board of County Commissioners appeared favorable.

Commissioners Steve Chappell, Keenan Ertel and Larry Don Suckla listened to the recommendations of Planning Director Susan Carver, who spoke on behalf of the six-member Planning and Zoning Commission.

The biggest change would give parcels zoned as light industrial, heavy industrial or commercial a "use by right" status. This would eliminate the need for high-impact permit reviews for those properties. Those applications cost $1,000 and can take six to 10 weeks.

If the change is approved, developers whose building plans exceed one or more of the 33 "threshold standards" - things like structure heights, setbacks, traffic and noise - would not need a high impact permit. Instead, they would only need to craft a mitigation plan with the planning department.

Carver said the goal is to help businesses open more quickly by getting rid of unnecessary hurdles.

The second notable change would give commercial and industrial developers the choice of building to a newer code. Currently, county land-use regulations only provide for the Uniform Building Code, which dates to 1997 and is considered obsolete by most builders. The newer International Building Code is far more common, Carver said. But right now, local builders need clearance from the county commissioners before using IBC standards, adding yet another step to the process.

Citing negative experiences with the IBC at several past jobs, Suckla was skeptical about including it in the land-use code. He said its stricter safety criteria, like requiring sprinkler systems, were onerous and "tied the hands" of business owners.

Carver replied that it is unusual to find builders who certify to UBC standards anymore.

Ertel liked the idea of keeping the UBC as an alternate option, while adding the updated code..

"If we keep stalling (adopting the IBC), future commercial and industrial structures may not be insurable," he said. He also worried that finding lenders would be difficult if the code wasn't modernized.

None of the proposed amendments impact houses, apartments or condominiums, Carver said, because Montezuma County has no mandatory residential building codes.

She added that the changes would bring Montezuma County more in line with the state norm.

The public hearing is scheduled for Monday, April 29, at 1:30 p.m. Those who cannot attend the mid-day hearing can submit written comments to the planning department.