A challenge to our county commissioners

About 13 years ago, our Montezuma County Board of Commissioners was faced with the potential impacts of a massive resort development on the upper Dolores River.

Cognizant of the significance of fresh, clean water to the health and economic survival of the county, they convoked a planning group of diverse volunteers, the majority of whom owned land along the river. After over a year of education and discussion, the resultant plan was submitted and approved by the Planning Commission and submitted to the County Commissioners, who called a public hearing. With not one dissent, the Dolores River Plan was approved unanimously.

However, no board has provided thorough information about the regulations and their purpose, adequate monitoring and enforcement.

The economy is now on the upswing, and we can anticipate a resurgence of demand for river front properties, including interest in resort development and higher density designs.

The economic downturn has given the county time to implement rules, information availability and enforcement strategies prior to more problems and potential expensive litigation, which is likely to occur.

Several months ago, the current BOCC questioned the Dolores River Valley Plan and requested that the County Planning Commission review it. It unanimously concluded that the plan’s recommendations, incorporated into the Land Use Code in 2002, were most thoroughly researched and debated and were an excellent and fair way to protect our water quality, lives, property and resources.

The challenge to our commissioners is to implement the DRVP properly, considering the greater good, the economic survival of the county and the health and welfare of its inhabitants.

Limiting density is imperative to maintaining water quality, travel movement and safety in the valley, our agriculture and ranching heritage and our forests, plants and wildlife. The code now mandates one dwelling per 10ac. If a large property owner is in need of cash but wants to maintain the land intact, he/she can sell only the development rights on however many 10 acre parcels to individuals needing more acreage for their development plan. The result is that the farmer or rancher (etc) still owns all of his property as is and is financially compensated for the development rights sold. The process is called “Transfer of Development Rights” or TDR’s.

Successful TDR programs have been implemented for many years across the U.S. But education, publication, monitoring and enforcement are essential components that have not been implemented in Montezuma County.

Another aspect of the code pertaining to the Dolores River Valley that the current commissioners are questioning is the 100-foot setback requirement from the river for permanent structures. That regulation not only prevents river contamination in the event of a large snow melt, but also limits flooding, property loss and damage downstream. Families in northeast Colorado may still be unable to return home because of water contamination. With changing weather patterns and increased flooding across the U.S., many areas are clearing flood plains and increasing setbacks.

Montezuma County has been recognized in the forefront nationally for its River Valley Plan.

The challenge for this commission is to make the regulations in the land use code pertaining to the Dolores River Valley widely known and more effective.

Pat Kantor is a steward and resident of the Dolores River Valley who actively participates in land-use discussions and meetings that affect the valley.