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Keeping the business of the county going during the time of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is the work of local governments. The Chaffee Board of County Commissioners’ (BoCC) regular meetings on Zoom conferencing are yet another example of how local governments are forging ahead, even as the Colorado State Assembly has delayed its session during the state’s pandemic Stay-at-Home Order.

Over the course of the past two weeks, the BoCC has dealt with several development and land use topics that could be addressed via virtual meetings.

It moved to temporarily extend the 1041 permit for Nestlé Waters North America to Dec. 31, 2020, an adjustment period following the rescheduled public hearing on the 1041 permit that allows Nestle to pump water from wells in Chaffee County for its Denver water bottling plant.

The permit was issued in 2010, and public hearings regarding the county’s renewal decision have been delayed repeatedly, first due to public notice error, and now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Commissioners expected a large public turnout for the April 21 hearing, which would have violated the county’s own “Stay at Home” orders. The new hearing is now set for 1 p.m. Oct. 20, at the Buena Vista Community Center.

Chaffee Board of County Commissioners, left to right: Keith Baker, Greg Felt and Rusty Granzella. Photo by Jan Wondra.

The BoCC approved a resolution for the Timber Creek (Yuniker) Heritage Water Subdivision exemption, and the Schwitzer Major Subdivision Preliminary Plan/Final Plat. In the case of the Schwitzer proposal, the county clarified a question about the county’s responsibility for road maintenance, that it extends past the area where the county maintenance sign is placed.

Commissioners held a lengthy discussion regarding an agricultural subdivision exemption project requested by Karin Adams, who was asking that changes be made to the resolution langue removing the word “residential” from the lot definitions; asking that the new lot not be referred to as a “residential lot” but just as a “lot”, and stating that the word “exemption” also meant that the lot would not be subject to the county’s “fair contribution to schools” requirement.

County staff and legal resources objected, saying that there were other subdivision options for those who want to subdivide rural land, but that the county’s simplified agricultural subdivision exemption process was created specifically to allow agricultural operations to carve off small residential lots from their rural land for family members, or to meet financial needs. They reiterated that the word “exemption” did not exempt the lot from paying the “fair contribution to schools” fees and that the Right to Ranch statutes apply.

“The word “residential is repeatedly used in our code, and fair contribution to schools is always there and Right to Farm and Ranch has to be on the plat according to Land Use Code (LUC),” said Planning Manager Jon Roorda. He added, Karin [Adams] does have other property in the commercial zone…so if she wants to apply to subdivide under another process, she can.”

“I think it’s proper to state that it is for residential use on the documents because the Land Use Code could change and it could be difficult to find this later – based upon what the use intent was intended for LUC at the time this was approved,” said Asst. County Attorney Daniel Lee. “We’re saying she can use the remainder property for any use by right, subject to that it has to be in ag (agricultural) use for 12 months, as long as the use is in agreement with LUC.”

“I’ve always understood that for ag subdivision exemptions the ‘exemption’ applies to exemption from a lot of the process,” said Commissioner Keith Baker, prior to the unanimous vote to approve the ag exemption, rejecting the language requests. “Keeping the bulk of the land in ag, but allowing someone who owns production ag land to carve off a chunk. But it doesn’t mean that any lots created by that are exempted from the requirements such as fair schools contribution.”

Commissioners devoted time to discussion of the temporary suspension of planning commission in-person meetings. Public hearings were suspended this past month during the pandemic emergency declaration. It was pointed out that the Planning Commission is working hard right now, holding continual virtual meetings on the county’s comprehensive plan.

There are at least half a dozen development projects coming in for their next review steps. Some, such as the Centerville Ranch Final Plan and the North Fork project are anticipated to generate high public interest, making these public hearings difficult to manage in virtual settings.

“It’s public health and fairness. Not everyone has internet access,” said Tom. “It’s also based on what [Chaffee County Public Health Director Andrea Carlstrom] believes – should the county be opened and what size of public gatherings do we allow? How we start having public hearings is based on what she says.”

They decided to extend the public meeting suspension to May 5. “By that time we will have implemented whatever orders, etc. based on the governor’s latest move,” said Commissioner Greg Felt.

At the time of their April 21 discussion commissioners did not know the state’s plan. “Yesterday I watched this webinar with state epidemiology – they laid out the scientific base for [the governor’s] press conference — if you have people in demographic terms of vulnerability, down to 65 percent, keep the vulnerable populations in a stay at home, look at everyone wearing masks in public,” said Felt. “But the other things — improved case detection and isolation clearly tied to better systems and availability – it implied some contact tracing. [The governor] totally glossed over that!”

“Getting in alignment with the national plan….14 days of downward trends appears to be a substitute for a lack of reliable testing data,” said Baker. “Guess we have to use that because we don’t have a lot of testing ability either.”

In earlier business this month, commissioners agreed to hear the appeal of the Preliminary Plat for Larks Perch Major Subdivision project. Set in a steep canyon area above Hutchinson Ranch in Poncha Springs, the project had been unanimously rejected by the Chaffee Planning Commission. Long-time neighbors had raised questions about the dangers of placing a residential development in a geographic area prone to flows and mudslides, as well as its impact on the wildlife of the area.

Commissioners are bound by statute to consider a request for appeal. They set the date for the appeal for May 19 (working around the county’s pandemic Safer-at-Home orders). The appeal requires a new hearing as well as a new staff report.

A dispute over what should have been included in the lot agreement for a residential lot in the Kalivoda Heritage Water Subdivision was raised. It concerned the culverts one of the buyers said were required for the driveways, and the lack of electricity being brought to the lot they purchased. Realtor Karin Adams pointed out that in her opinion if it wasn’t in the county documents approving the subdivision, it wasn’t required.

The county responded, saying that no culverts are being required for that area given the level of the road. According to county utility code standards, residential lots sales must have electricity access at the location.“Our utility standards mean that electricity should be close to the lots – this board and no BoCC board has never waived that requirement,” said Roorda.

The county refrained from involvement, saying the dispute was between the owner who sold the lot and the lot owners.