County may OK projects that don’t meet zoning rules

Mesa County commissioners on Monday approved changes to the county’s land development code that, in some instances, will allow land owners to develop their property even if they don’t meet all the requirements and criteria in the code.

In a 2–1 vote, the board added what commissioners Craig Meis and Janet Rowland referred to as a “common sense” clause to the code that allows them and the county planning director to approve development applications that don’t comply with the code if unique circumstances exist and certain other criteria are met. Those criteria are:

The land use poses no threat to health or safety;

The land use mitigates impacts to the maximum extent reasonable; and

The land use is generally consistent and compatible with the allowed uses in the surrounding area.

Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who cast the dissenting vote, said commissioners have always had the ability to sign off on developments and land-use changes even if they didn’t meet all the zoning criteria. He said he wasn’t comfortable transferring that authority to county planning staff.

He also said injecting that kind of subjectivity into land-use decisions could someday work in the opposite direction, and that a future county commission could reject an application even if it meets all the requirements.

“It’s a direction I’m not entirely comfortable with,” Acquafresca said.

Meis, though, said the change avoids a one-size-fits-all approach that limits planners’ and commissioners’ latitude to consider applications on a case-by-case basis. And he said he believes it’s appropriate to allow county planners to make decisions based on their professional judgment.

“If we didn’t trust them, we probably shouldn’t have them in their positions,” he said.

Rowland said she considered the change a protection of private property rights and that it would help people going through the development review process.

Both Meis and Rowland appeared surprised at Acquafresca’s no vote, with Rowland shaking her head after the hearing ended.

The decision comes five months after another amendment to the land development code that eliminated public hearings in front of the Planning Commission and the County Commission for major subdivisions and allowed those types of projects to be reviewed and approved administratively.

In other business, commissioners:

Approved a $3.6 million contract with Elam Construction of Grand Junction to pave 28 miles worth of roads this year.

Approved a $194,000 contract with ClayCo Construction of Grand Junction to complete a drainage improvement project on 32 1/2 Road.


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