Snake River planning commission hears feedback on backcountry zoning
SUMMIT COUNTY – Summit County planner Kate Noonan said limits on house size are key to protecting the character of backcountry, by limiting site disturbance and visual impacts.”Because of the layout of the mining claims (often narrow slices of land clustered together), development of larger homes can have impacts on the backcountry character,” Noonan said.But a handful of citizens who attended an April 19 Snake River planning commission meeting to gripe about the county’s rezoning plan disagreed, calling the limits unreasonable. One property owner called on the planning commission to abandon the rezoning plan altogether, while several others said the size limits should be changed to allow reasonable space for families. Property owner Greg Parker, the most outspoken opponent of the rezoning, raised the specter of lawsuits against the county.”I don’t think it’s fair that land values should be decreased. The rural values are not in jeopardy,” said Parker, who plans to build a home on his parcel at some point. “People are building homes that fit. They’re not building glass and steel Guggenheim monstrosities,” he said.”It sounds like a back way to condemn a whole bunch of property,” said Tina Campbell, who lives above Montezuma, where the road splits to Webster Pass and Deer Creek.At issue is a county proposal to reclassify about 300 parcels in the Snake River and Tenmile basins into the backcountry zone, a move that makes some major changes in development rules for landowners.Noonan explained that all property owners were notified, and while many had questions, most agreed with the plan once they had the details. Since the proposal affects several hundred properties, the planning commission hearing constitutes a quasi-legislative review. The plan will be subject to additional planning review and final approval by the Board of County Commissioners.Several people said there is an inequity associated with allowing only limited development on backcountry parcels, while enabling “unlimited” use of that development right if its transferred into a more urban area. The development in the receiving areas is still limited by zoning and site-specific review, planners responded.Planning commissioner John Crone explained that the rezoning plan is not arbitrary, but in keeping with a longstanding process that included a citizen-driven master plan revision.”Density in the backcountry is different in from density in urban areas. We want those 100 homes to be built in urbanized areas. We don’t want a bunch of SUVs driving into the backcountry,” Crone said, getting to the heart of the rezoning effort, which is to steer development toward areas with existing infrastructure and services.”This has been on the minds of the people in this basin a long, long time,” said planning commissioner Terry Craig, referring to a stalled master plan process that began in 1999. “I’m disappointed that support from people who own parcels that are on steep slopes or whose property is entirely in wetlands isn’t reflected at this meeting,” Craig said. Those people are getting added value from the rezoning and development rights transfer mechanism by being able to sell development rights from a parcel that might be prohibitively expensive, or even unbuildable, she explained.At the same time, she said the county’s one-size-fits-all approach – using the Upper Blue template for the Snake River Basin – might not be the best way to go, she said. The backcountry rezoning effort in the Snake River basin takes into account the unique geographic circumstances and history of the valleys and hillsides above Keystone and Montezuma, she added.In the end, the planning commission seemed to be willing to revisit the backcountry zoning issue and take another look to see if all the parcels currently allocated to the zone actually fit.”We’re here to slow down the train,” said planning commissioner Craig Suwinski, referring to a hurried timetable that had the BOCC making a decision by June.
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