Seven months ago the Chaffee County Planning Commission received my request for a text change to the Chaffee County Land Use Code regarding their loosely interpreted definition of “outfitting facility.” For months I have been engaged in a game of dodge ball with the Planning and Zoning staff, and to date, while it was agreed a change is needed, none has taken place.
There appears to be a huge issue with the way the Chaffee County Planning Commission interprets the definition of “outfitting facility.” Because the definition of outfitting facility is so vague, the CCPC can interpret the definition to suit any need they choose. This has put outdoor-oriented persons in Chaffee County, including me, in the uncomfortable position of wondering when property might be defined as an outfitting facility because of how we organize our outdoor play time. Language needs to be changed, so everyone knows just what an outfitting facility is and how to work with that new definition. That is the reason I submitted a “Request for Text Change” to the Chaffee County Land Use Code on March 6, 2018.
My text change request was reviewed by the Chaffee Planning and Zoning Dept. staff with a recommendation to “deny.” Next, the CCPC heard and denied my request, as recommended by county staff.
Then, the Chaffee County Commissioners heard my request and voted 3-0 to deny but agreed that, while my specific text change was denied, the issue was significant and a text change was in order. At that same meeting, all three commissioners agreed to request a joint work session with the CCPC to seek a resolution.
I was disappointed in the denial, but happy that the issue was recognized and that commissioners showed a strong desire to find a new definition. The joint session was scheduled for June 7, 2018. Because it was a “work session” there was no public comment, no minutes and no recording of the meeting.
The hours-long work session was attended by concerned ranchers, who felt they were particularly vulnerable. County staff spoke strongly that any change would reduce their control and flexibility in interpreting the definition.
Commissioner Greg Felt got both staff and commissioners to agree on three elements of a new definition. The new definition needed to contain the defining word “business” to define the purpose of the use of the facility, the new definition needed to put parameters on the number of events per year on the property, and the number of attendees at each event. Commissioner Felt asked the planning staff if they “felt comfortable” drafting language for the commissioners with these elements and they agreed to do so.
Time passed. On July 27, I sent an email to all commissioners asking for an update. I received no reply. More time passed. On August 17, I sent a follow-up email to commissioners reminding them of my July 27 request: “I do not know what a reasonable time period should be for me to expect a reply to my request for follow-up information but it does seem that three weeks without a word from you is pushing the limit.” Again no reply. Time passed.
All three Commissioners agreed that a change was needed. An agreement on the elements of the new language was agreed to by commissioners, the CCPC and county staff. So where is the process stalled?
On Sept. 6 I sent an email to Commissioner Keith Baker asking assistance to help me understand what had happened regarding follow-up. Had the staff dropped the ball? Was there pending litigation? I got no reply, but at a Sept. 12 chance meeting, he told me he was going to look into the issue.
I had drafted a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request to Assistant County Attorney Chip Mortimer. On Sept. 13, I received Mortimer’s response, saying he “did locate the agenda and materials from the meeting but could not locate any documents that relate to any follow up or subsequent action related to the ‘outfitter facility’ question.”
This story smacks of ineffective, unresponsive local government. At any time with the existing definition, our homes could be designated an “outfitting facility,” and we could be forced to a lengthy, expensive process to prove that we are not an outfitting facility. Worse, the county could start to force actions on us that could cause us to be removed from our property, lose property rights and incur excessive legal fees. We have watched the county do just this to a county resident, and it is an ugly thing to observe.
Our county commissioners hold the power to kill this process and let things stay the way they are, leaving us all in jeopardy. Or they can start to demand performance from their planning staff that will result in a change that could benefit all of us.