Commission may loosen valley limits
Some structures could be allowed closer to river under revised version of Dolores Valley Plan
Eighty local residents attended a special Montezuma County Planning Commission meeting Tuesday to give input on proposed changes to the Dolores Valley Plan.
The review of the 10-year old plan is a result of disagreement over development restrictions on the Dolores River, in particular a general requirement that permanent structures be set back 100 feet from the banks of the river.
The DVP specifically restricts construction of buildings with sewer systems within the 100-foot setback to protect water quality of the Dolores River, which provides water for Dolores, Cortez, Towaoc, and Dove Creek.
No change is proposed for that rule, but revisions are suggested for what structures without septic systems may be allowed within the 100-foot setback and for the amount of fines for non-compliance.
Redefining what is allowed within the setback and specific penalties is a change advocated by the Montezuma County Commission, prompting a proposal by the planning board and a meeting for public comment in Dolores.
According to the proposal, the structure definition would be revised to mean: "Any building, equipment, device, or other facility made by people and which is fixed to land, including gas or liquid storage tanks above or below ground, as well as manufactured homes and recreational vehicles."
According to the proposal, the following would be exempted from the setback regulations:
1. Recreational structures permanently fixed to the land including patios, decks, gazebos, pergolas which do not exceed 400 square feet, do not have plumbing and are not enclosed on more than one side.
2. Temporary recreational structures not permanently attached to the ground including tents, tipis or yurts.
3. Agricultural structures including irrigation diversions, pump houses, fences and corrals.
4. Engineered bridges which do not impede river flow or recreational use and passage on the Dolores River.
5. Recreational vehicles that are in operational condition, are not supplied with external plumbing, and are not parked in excess of 90 days.
All allowable structures must conform to Montezuma County Resolution 13-2008, "Flood Damage Prevention," and to all other applicable federal or state regulations.
Another change is writing into the land-use code more specific fines for non-compliance. The proposed penalty for violating any provision in the LUC is a fine of not more than $100, with each day of the violation deemed a separate offense.
Comments on the changes generally fell into two camps. Many felt restrictions were an infringement on private property rights. Others expressed concerns about major floods washing out, vehicles, decks and patios, causing pollution of the river.
"If I want to put my RV next to the river for my relatives, I should be able to. Is this my land or your land?" asked one woman.
Planning commission president Dennis Atwater noted if it is in running order, it can stay there 90 days.
Pat Kantor believes poured concrete slabs should be included in the definition of a structure and be banned within the 100-foot setback. Too much development inhibits the ability of the flood plain to absorb the force of a major flood.
"A natural flood plain slows the velocity of a flood, saving lives and preventing destruction," she said.
Larry Fitzwater wondered what would happen if his home burned down. It is within the 100-foot setback but because it was built before the land-use code, it is exempt.
"Would I be able to rebuild?"
Tony LittleJohn warned not to underestimate the power of a 100-year flood event.
"Vehicles will be washed into the river. We don't need human fabricated debris in the river. It is a hazard," he said.
Lloyd Johnson agreed. He works for McPhee Reservoir, "and it will all wash there, making a big mess to clean up."
Atwater reported that the last major flood on the Dolores River was in 1911, when it reached 10,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). In the last 90 years there have been five floods that reached 7,000 cfs. An elevation drop of 1,751 feet in 31 miles is a recipe for a powerful flood event, and the valley is more populated now than in 1911.
"Who will police these rules?" asked Carol Stepe. "It will lead to tattle-telling among neighbors."
Atwater said the county commission would review issues of non-compliance and enforce the rules along with the sheriff.
"Violations could be filed in district court," he said.
Marianne Mate also said it was a mistake to be complacent about flood danger.
"When an area is overbuilt, debris gets washed down the river. Floods will wipe out carports, decks, patios and RVs."
Atwater emphasized that part of the planning process is "staying ahead of the curve" and anticipating future growth pressures.
"We need to be proactive now, not 10 years from now. Oak Creek Canyon in Arizona is overbuilt. Telluride is behind the curve" and is suffering from excessive development, he said. "It is not an easy issue, especially when the development capacity of the valley shows that 2,495 more units could be built."
Currently there are 500 property owners in the valley, representing 392 parcels.
Val Truelsen wondered why the Dolores Valley Plan regulations are not implemented in other riparian areas in the county.
"Why don't these apply to lands in the Mancos Valley?" he asked.
Josh Munson said that more time is needed to change the Dolores Valley Plan, which the community agreed to after working on it for two years.
"People put a lot of thought into this; let's not change it on a whim," he said. "We should consider the long-term future of water quality for all of us who depend on the river, and there needs to be stiffer consequences for those who don't follow the law."
Joe Kantor commented that if penalties are too light, "they just become a surcharge for building on the river."
Other issues and points made included:
The Dolores River is the "lifeblood" of the entire county and all residents should have a voice on its management.
The maximum size of a deck of 400 square feet is arbitrary
The 100-foot setback is arbitrary.
The Dolores sewer plant is at risk of failure during a major flood.
Controlling development preserves scenic qualities for tourism and boating
More education is needed for builders, property owners and those shopping for property regarding the exact building regulations under the Land Use Code.
No decisions were made at the meeting. The comments will be reviewed by the planning commission, and then presented to the county commission on Sept. 9.