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Chaffee County Commissioners will hold a public hearing at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday, April 10, to consider a proposal by Planning and Zoning staff to curtail the Board of Adjustment appeal process. If approved, the change to the Chaffee County Land Use Code will cede authority to county employees, limiting county residents’ rights to appeal an “administrative interpretation” of the code.

The proposed change, included in a March 21 report submitted by Planning and Zoning staff, would expand county staff members’ power to interpret and enforce the land use code. The proposal is worded in a way that would take away the rights of county residents to appeal land-use decisions by county staff.

Chaffee County Land Use Code Section 1.3.3.B.2.a currently reads, “Appeal to the Board of Adjustment shall not be allowed for building use violations that may be prosecuted by the court pursuant to C.R.S. 30-28-124 (1)(b).”

The staff report proposes changing the code to read, “Appeal to the Board of Adjustment shall not be allowed for violations that may be prosecuted pursuant to C.R.S. 30-28-124 (1)(b).”

The deletions – removing the words “for building use” and “by the court” – substantially change citizens’ ability to appeal staff decisions. The current code specifies appeal denials can relate only to building use violations and requires that the violations meet the threshold of being prosecutable in court.

The proposed changes expand the appeal denial authority to any and all land use code violations and remove the judicial threshold. This change expands the ability of county staff to pursue what they perceive to be violations without input from county commissioners and with authority to deny citizens the right to appeal their interpretations of the land use code.

While the wording in the next section of the code, 1.3.3.B.2.b, is less clear, it appears the only way a resident can appeal a staff determination of a code violation would be to get at least three members of the Board of Adjustment to vote in favor of considering an appeal.

While the county’s elected commissioners have not yet considered the proposed changes to the land use code, Planning Manager Jon Roorda has already used the proposed wording to deny an appeal.

Per a county notice, a Board of Adjustment appeals hearing for Alison Brown was originally set for April 10. But on April 2 Roorda denied Brown’s request for an appeal of the county’s administrative interpretation that her property, consisting of two legally separate 40-acre parcels, be treated as one 80-acre parcel. In denying the appeal, Roorda’s letter cites the revised wording of land use code section 1.3.3.B.2, which has not yet been considered, much less approved, by the county commissioners.

“They have denied our application for administrative interpretation that these two legal parcels are not one parcel, based on revised language in (land use code) Article 1.3.3.B.2.a, something county commissioners haven’t passed yet,” said Brown. “It’ looks pretty obvious to me that they made this change just to deny my appeal, but all residents here could be affected.”

For context, Brown was denied occupancy in her new house at 11600 Antelope Road in December 2017, even though it passed inspection, due to the county’s determination that she had violated unrelated provisions of the land use code.

The April 10 public hearing will give citizens an opportunity to voice their opinions about the county’s proposed restriction of property rights as well as county employees’ enforcement of the proposed code changes prior to the county commissioners voting on them.