COUNTY BEAT: Back to drawing board for land use amendments

LAND USE REGULATIONS

“I think this is very restrictive. There’s no reason to have a minor subdivision if you’re going down this road,”  said RBC Commissioner Gary Moyer during a public hearing this week, referring to resolution 2022-06, one of three land use regulation (LUR) amendments proposed by the county planning commission. 

State law prohibits the installation of septic systems on any lot less than one acre, overriding less-restrictive, or unspecified county land use rules about septic systems. In an attempt to address this restriction, RBC’s planning commission suggested adding verbiage to the existing LUR noting that eligible lots “shall have access to central water and sewer utilities via deed or easement” as opposed to allowing septic systems on small lots, which they can’t do. 

Moyer, having recused himself in August of 2021 from a vote on approval of “G & E Moyer Minor Subdivision” was no stranger to the discussion, since two of the five total lots on his own minor subdivision did not meet minimum acreage requirements for onsite water treatment systems. Citing less restrictive regulations as the primary benefit of minor subdivisions, Moyer pushed to deny resolution 2022-06, stating “when you put this in, you’ve severely limited your ability to have the benefit of a minor subdivision, and so that’s why I’m in favor of just killing it.”

RBC Planner Leif Joy reiterated that acreage requirements for septic systems are state-specific and override any local regulations or lack thereof. County Attorney Don Steerman suggested bringing local regulation language in line with the state, so as to not confuse residents. After further discussion the board denied the resolution, sending it back to the planning commission for more specific verbiage that will specifically note the jurisdiction of state law. 

Joy presented two other LUR amendments, one of which also generated significant discussion around enforcement. Resolution 2022-05 would add language requiring anyone living in/occupying an RV for 60 consecutive days to “have/acquire a water and sewer plan approved by the county building department.

Former planning commissioner Oakley Hopkins shared insight on the requirement, noting that during the oil-boom “people were dumping sewage along the river, in irrigation ditches, everywhere.”

Commissioner Moyer asked for specifics about what the building official would consider acceptable or not acceptable when reviewing a sewage/water plan. Commissioner Ty Gates and Planner Leif Joy both responded that it would be based on current building codes. Rector noted the importance of addressing waste disposal, and ultimately the board agreed to table the resolution until the planning commission could develop more specifics about what would be required for sewage/water plan approval.

The one land use change the board did pass reduces notification requirements for adjacent landowners. In the past someone doing a project would not only have to notify their direct neighbors, but anyone within a half mile of their property line. With the new change, landowners will only be required to notify directly adjacent landowners.

MEEKER FIRE BREAK

In other land use discussions Tuesday, RBC Emergency Manager/Natural Resources Director Eddie Smercina updated the board on the plans to build a fire-break north of Meeker. Such a project would entail removal of underbrush, small trees and low-branch trimming of larger, old growth trees along a 40-60 ft. wide “break” that could offer firefighters a significant protection tool if a wildfire were ever to threaten the town.

The main challenge surrounding the project, which already involves multiple local and state entities, revolves around landowner permissions and education. Some private owners whose property would be impacted by a fire-break project have expressed concerns about increased trespassing, since some residents may mistake the fire break for a trail.

Smercina said an upcoming public meeting is set near the end of January for education about the purpose of the fire-break, what it would look like, and how private property owners might be impacted. Notice of any meeting will also be published in the HT.

Smercina also mentioned recent meetings with the conservation district and others to draft changes to the county land use plan.

CDL TRAINING/BROADBAND

Road and Bridge Director Scott Marsh plans to move forward with at least six other county road and bridge directors on the development of a CDL driver training program that could be implemented internally. He said such an initiative makes sense amidst a nationwide shortage of certified drivers/equipment operators and existing training programs that are time/cost prohibitive for local governments. 

Communications/IT director Trever Nielson shared info on recently completed engineering work to estimate the total cost of expanding the existing fiber/broadband network. The total estimate with a max listed amount of approximately $1.6 million brings the grant process into closer reach, as a scope of work has been identified. Nielson said that existing funding opportunities might make now a good time to do an expansion.

BOARD OF HEALTH

The RBC Board of Health’s quarterly meeting included an end of year service review for 2021, a discussion of the community health impacts of COVID-19, and an introduction/overview of the planning process for the upcoming “community health plan.”

Discussing the service review, Public Health Director Alice Harvey shared statistics on COVID testing and vaccinations. Total tests administered by public health in 2021 to date total 2,859 in Meeker and 1,401 in Rangely. Responding to questions about shortages, Harvey said the department is “fully capable as far as capacity is concerned” to continue administering tests to residents. She did note a definite shortage nationwide of supplies, particularly for rapid antigen tests. The shortages are driven by the surge in cases as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly. Fortunately, according to Harvey, even local numbers reflect general trends of Omicron leading to less hospitalizations than previous strains.

Vaccinations in RBC to date total 4,636, with 2,715 residents fully vaccinated and 2,599 receiving at least one dose. 630 residents have also received flu shots, and 71 have gotten other vaccinations including polio, tetanus, hepatitis A and B, rubella, Hib, measles, etc. Harvey noted that new systems which allow for billing of private insurance may have driven an uptick in vaccinations overall.

Other discussion topics during the Board of Health meeting included upcoming initiatives, including some to address substance abuse, continued data gathering on long-term COVID impacts, and collaboration with Moffat County on 2023 community health assessment planning. The HT will cover the rest of this meeting in more detail in a future issue OR you can watch the whole thing at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQz33qza_RM


By LUCAS TURNER | lucas@ht1885.com