Grand County mulls zoning changes: camping, towers, industrial
Grand County commissioners adopted their first zoning regulations back in the summer of 1970, and they’ve seen a slew of changes and updates since. The most recent round are coming to fruition this winter, which are mostly looking to modify outdated regulations.
Through the process, planning director Kris Manguso emphasizes the importance of input from county residents.
“All these amendments still need to be fleshed out, they are in the beginning states,” Manugso said, who has spent around a year examining current zoning codes to figure out changes needed to be made, at the county commissioners’ request. “We strongly encourage public comment.”
Camping on private land
One of the most controversial changes so-far has been a proposed revision that would allow camping on private lots of 35 acres or more. One commercial campground owner worried the provision would put him out of business. Other county residents worried it would turn areas into a “squatters paradise.”
Planning director Kris Manguso said the revision is meant to provide more freedom to owners of large lots, but they’re still required to be “good neighbors.”
“It’s to allow for such things as camping on larger parcels that will avoid negative impacts to neighbors,” she said.
Current regulations allow camping on large properties for one year, while the owner constructs a house. The proposed amendment would allow property owners unlimited camping on their land as long as it’s restricted to family members, non-commercial and is on lots of 35 acres or more.
Camping vehicles, like RVs, would have to be self-contained, but that restriction doesn’t apply to tents, since Manguso said it’s impossible to enforce. Planning staff and county commissioners have also explored ways to limit visual impacts, but Manguso said most campers are going to work to be out of view anyway.
“If it does generate complaints, we’ll talk to them,” she said.
The most extensive zoning overhaul is in telecommunications towers, which county staff is trying to update to meet modern technological needs. As they stand now, telecommunication regulations restrict equipment to Forestry Zone Districts. The requirement dates back to the days of the old microwave transmission stations, when equipment was set on mountaintops to beam digital and analog signals from radio tower to radio tower.
As technology has evolved, some telecommunication facilities have been allowed in other zone districts by calling themselves “public utilities.” Still, county staff found the restriction limited providers’ ability to expand coverage in the area.
“We want to make it easier on providers if they want to located in Grand County, so we will hopefully improve our telecommunications infrastructure,” Manguso said.
The proposed amendments allow telecommunications in all zone districts, and group the equipment under the “public utility” section. They’ll also bring out-of-date language in line with current industry standards and terminology.
Planning staff has taken aesthetics into account as well. The proposed amendments would require telecommunication towers to be non-reflective and as close to the ground as possible. They discourage equipment placed on ridgelines and other highly visual areas. They also incorporate “stealth” tower designs, like the cell towers that mimic pine trees, to blend with the surrounding landscape.
Warehouses and light manufacturing in Forestry and Open Zone Districts
Another proposed amendment that looks to meet current county needs is allowing warehouses and indoor light manufacturing in Forestry and Open Zone Districts. Currently, these uses are allowed in Business Districts only.
Manguso and county staff began reconsidering this restriction when a medical supply business looked to operated a warehouse at an old log home construction business. The former use had been high-impact, and but current regulations wouldn’t allow for the lower-impact warehousing operation.
Manguso said she hasn’t heard any public comment against allowing both warehouses and light manufacturing in Forestry and Open Zone Districts. County commissioners, however, want a nailed-down definition of light manufacturing, which she’s currently honing.
When asked how the changes would relate to newly approved retail marijuana growing operations, Manguso said those definitions need to be ironed out as well.
“That’s still so new, I’m not sure yet,” she said. “A grow operation is more like a greenhouse, not a warehouse. Water may be an issue for grow-type operations also. We’ll just have to wait and see where that falls.”
Three Lakes Design Review Area
The County Commissioners already approved a batch of zoning amendments to the Three Lakes Design Review Area, which included removing landscaping and re-vegetation certification requirements, open fencing requirements and a section on agricultural use. They also now require shake shingle roofing materials to be non-flammable, allow for corrugated metal siding and provide updates for building materials no longer made.
Of the proposed changes to zoning in the Three Lakes area, however, commissioners have held off on eliminating outbuilding restrictions and requiring non-reflective solar panels.
Countywide, only Three Lakes restricts the number of outbuildings on a property, limited to no more than two per residence. Meanwhile, regulations allow for an unlimited amount of buildings with foundations, like barns and garages, as long as they don’t have water or sewer hookups. Manguso and county staff questioned the point of the outbuildings restriction, proposing to eliminate it.
Still, the proposal caused some public concern that it could lead to lots full of numerous unsightly sheds, impacting the values of adjoining properties. But Manguso said elsewhere in the county, where the outbuilding restriction doesn’t exist, there hasn’t been a problem.
In an attempt to update energy conservation regulations, county staff also proposed encouraging solar panels in the Three Lakes area. To eliminate visual impacts, however, the amendment requires the panels to be non-reflective, which caused public concern over the extra cost of non-reflective panels.
Although they held off making a decision on outbuildings and solar panels, the county commissioners noted in their Jan. 21, 2014 meeting that the changes could still be approved at a future meeting.
Storage of equipment on unimproved lots
Because Grand County draws recreational users, vacant lots are sometimes used to store boats, snowmobiles and trailers. County staff has proposed permitting a limited amount of recreational equipment storage on vacant lots, although there is some concern this could lead to blight issues.
County commissioners and planning staff are still considering how to address these regulations. According to Manguso, one of the options is to allow recreational equipment storage if there’s an existing accessory structure on the lot, like a garage a property owner built before completing a residential home.
Mobile homes on agricultural property
County commissioners have already approved this amendment, which only affects four county residents. Past regulations allowed for mobile homes on agricultural property under a special use permit, which had to be renewed every year. The amendment changes the renewal period to five years instead.
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.
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