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Water Ordinance Passed in 5 to 1 Vote During Public Hearing

At their July 25 meeting, the Buena Vista Board of Trustees approved a new water dedication and allocation policy that has been in the works since before November 2022. Some were concerned the policy would discourage investors or developers due to new time constraints placed on developing major subdivisions, but all present recognized that water is a problem that won’t just be going away. The topic addresses the town’s two major issues: housing and water.

According to language in the ordinance, “the Board of Trustees has found that water allocation restrictions are necessary to make the best use of the town’s water supply, ensure development progresses at a sustainable rate to prevent the over-commitment of the town’s water supply, guide decisions by staff and decision-making bodies as to the availability of water for development and to further the goals set forth by the town in its Comprehensive Plan and Water Resource Master Plan.”

The approved changes, presented in the June 29 meeting, codify the water allocation policy, add flexibility to language in the code, set boundaries on how long the town will obligate water to a development, and clean up language in the code.

The largest point of contention with the water allocation policy involved the ten-year time limit in which a developer must complete construction or else risk losing their dedicated water. Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Executive Director Jake Rishavy spoke out against parts of the policy during public comment, citing concerns that codifying the water allocation policy is a “dramatic step.”

“Using water policy as a tool to manage growth seems inappropriate when other methods including zoning and subdivision approvals, which include public input, are already used for that purpose,” said Rishavy. He encouraged the board to consider adding a provision to allow for extensions or to eliminate the expiration policy altogether.

Dan Niemela spoke during public comment to echo Rishavy’s comments. Niemela emphasized the need for the town to invest in water planning and make it a priority. Niemela also encouraged keeping the two-part approval process for water dedication.

Planning Director Joel Benson emphasized the point that the ten-year time limit may potentially not come into play depending on the Town’s water supply at the time. Essentially, if water is available at the time of expiration, those developers will not need to worry, but, if there is not enough water, the development’s water would be given to a different project.

Trustee Peter Hylton-Hinga agreed that the ten-year expiration may need some wiggle room but cited concerns about making it so flexible as to be irrelevant. “I think there should be some sort of leeway there, but not so much so that everyone is like ‘don’t worry the ten years is arbitrary and we can just push past it.’”

Ideas floated to increase flexibility in the timeline included extensions as incentives for including affordable housing within a development or consideration of extenuating circumstances in the event of something unexpected like a recession or another pandemic.

In the end, Trustee Sue Cobb moved to accept the ordinance as written, and Trustee Devin Rowe seconded the motion. A roll call vote ended with five to one in favor of the ordinance, which passed. New Trustee Andrew Rice was the only vote against the measure.

At the end of the night, Benson suggested to the Board of Trustees that they could consider ending the 120-day moratorium on new subdivision applications in light of passing this water allocation policy. The hope is that this new policy will help alleviate the two major issues that the town faces, housing and water, thereby eliminating the need for the moratorium. Benson, as well as the Board, appear to recognize that there are likely unknown “negative externalities” that may yet arise, and are prepared to continue to revisit the policy if necessary.

The 417-page packet for the meeting is accessible online here. The specific changes initiated by the ordinance are described on pages 100 to 107 of the packet. The full meeting can be viewed on YouTube here.

Featured image: Photo by Jimmy Chang on Unsplash.